Judge shares bench secrets
Rajneesh era was most intriguing time on the bench
Sannyasnews often feels a cloak of respectability, forgetfulness and twisted logic hangs over the Ranch experiment. This short memoir from an Oregon retiring Judge helps to keep perspective firmly based in the mess we got into in those days, and that can only be really healed by accepting it and learning the lessons and not finding excuses.
Wasco County Circuit Judge John Kelly reflected.
“It is our job, as judges, not to influence what the jurors do. And that is why 25-40 percent of judges spend time with their hand over their mouth or part of their face so that they can avoid showing any emotion.” Kelly said thinking back on the 25 years spent overseeing trials that ranged from murder to custody disputes.
He remembers the 1984 attack on The Dalles town by a small but leading number of Osho’s so called disciples as the most interesting time of his years in the elected office. In 1981, the Rajneesh organisation had set up headquarters at the Big Muddy Ranch in south Wasco County, which was renamed Rajneeshpuram and inhabited by about 7,000 people.
Some unneeded acrimony quickly developed between a few of the leading disciples and the local authorities over the use of agricultural land for urban purposes.. They got very frustrated because they wanted to build more housing, etc but had had to stop due to legalities.
In the wave of that frustration they attempted a mad scheme to fix the democratic process through incapacitating voters in the Dalles on the day of the election. ( Someone called Ma Anand Sheela had decided that the best way to change the land use rules in their favor was to gain control of two county commission seats in an upcoming election.)
To succeed in incapacitating local voters, they sprayed salmonella into salad bars at 10 restaurants in The Dalles, sickening 710 individuals, with 45 of these patients hospitalized. No one died during the attacks but later two leading Rajneeshpuram officials ended up serving time in prison for these crimes.
“That was a hugely fascinating time in our history,” said Kelly, a native of The Dalles town.
He recounted that he had been in office only two months before being faced with a lawsuit to seize the assets of the Rajneesh organisation to pay for the judgments against them. He was spared ruling on the issue when the Oregon Attorney General intervened and determined that the assets could not be transferred.
“It was intimidating, but when you get to do something that big, it’s just fun,” said Kelly who retires shortly.