Monday, September 14, 2015

What I'm reading

The Daily Astorian has a new feature, asking contributors to write about what they are reading. Here is my submission:

The Daily Astorian invites people to submit titles of books they are reading and share a few thoughts about the work. This week, Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis shares some of his favorite books. Marquis, the district attorney since 1994, is a voracious reader. His parents didn’t allow a TV in his home until he was 16, to make sure he read. He is a frequent author of op-ed pieces in newspapers including The Daily Astorian, The New York Times and USA Today, and co-authored a book on capital punishment in 2005. To submit, send to

Rereading a good book is like visiting an old friend after time and circumstance have separated you.
I recently reread with great pleasure one of my two favorite books, Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle.” (The other is Ursula Le Guin’s “Lathe of Heaven.”)

Dick, known as PKD, was a prodigious consumer of illicit drugs and an equally prolific author. He is best known to many for the movies that were made from his books and short stories — “Blade Runner” from “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”; “Total Recall” from “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,”; “Minority Report” and others.

Written in 1962, “The Man in the High Castle” (now an Amazon TV series to be aired later this fall) posits an alternate-history America in which the United States lost World War II. Nazis occupy the eastern U.S., Japanese occupy the western states, and a buffer neutral nation called the “Rocky Mountain States of America” lies in between.
I don’t think you need to be a fan of science fiction to appreciate the many-layered themes.
Like in PKD’s other novels, the characters face challenges to their basic assumptions about themselves, their world, and their relationship to it. Without revealing too much, as I hope others will enjoy what has brought me many good hours of reading, the book references a key character who is the author of a “book inside the book” — “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” — an alternate history of WWII in which the United States wins the war.

A few months ago, my wife Cindy and I visited one of her dearest friends, a senior Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. It was my second trip, the first was with my father in 1990, near the end but still very much the Soviet Union. Our host loaned me “The Forsaken,” a grim and virtually unknown history of the migration of thousands of idealistic, if very naive Americans to Stalin’s Russia in the early 1930s. Some were members of the American Communist Party, but most were younger men and their families, skilled workers unable to find jobs in Depression-era America.
The author, Tim Tzouliadis, a Greece-born English documentarian, vividly describes the despair and hopelessness many ordinary workers felt before Franklin Roosevelt was able to implement the New Deal and programs like the Works Progress Administration. Tzouliadis is unsparing in his revelations of the extreme brutality, in fact genocide, committed by Stalin against, among others, the Ukrainian people, or anyone the increasingly paranoid leader felt threatened by. The author notes with disgust how the wealthy American ambassador to Russia, Joseph Davies and his wife, watched silently as American citizens begged to return to the U.S., only to be dragged off by the NKVD, the secret police that preceded the KGB and, today, the FSB.

“The Forsaken” reminds us that what we think we know as “history” is often written by the victors or, in this case, those who survived.

Most recently I read an exposé by a long-retired investigative journalist, William Crawford, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 writing for the Chicago Tribune. Now he has written a shocking and revealing book about corruption in the Chicago justice system.

“Justice Perverted” is the story of how a well-known professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism helped ensure that Anthony Porter, almost certainly guilty of a vicious 1982 double homicide, was released from prison and pardoned by Illinois’ then-Gov. George Ryan (who ended up in federal prison for his own corruption).

This isn’t the usual story of bad cops framing an innocent man. “Justice Perverted” tells the well-documented story of how the lawyers, the judges, the prosecutors, the press, and academia — all the people who should have stopped it — conspired to uphold the modern “narrative” that innocent men are regularly convicted of crimes they did not commit. What’s worse, they were all willing to sacrifice Alstory Simon, a genuinely innocent man, to prison to make their narrative work.
Through the National District Attorneys Association I’ve become acquainted with the relatively new Cook County prosecutor, Anita Alvarez. To her great credit, she freed Simon from prison last fall, citing the massive injustice perpetrated to advance the careers of many, at the cost of a man’s freedom.

The books by PKD and Crawford, utterly unrelated other than by my reading habits, warn us that the conventional wisdom is not always what it seems.

Read it on the Daily Astorian's website

Monday, May 11, 2015

Casey Foundation distorts juvenile arrest rates

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A grand jury reform bill?

Guest column: State doesn’t need grand jury reform bill

For The Daily Astorian
There is a growing effort in Salem, led by Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, to make a “basic reform” that would “increase transparency” of grand jury proceedings.
SB-365, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, proposes to record all questions and answers in grand jury proceedings and make them immediately available to the defense attorneys.
The proposal has gained the approval of The Oregonian  and is on the fast track to approval.
But, like many bills, SB-365 is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in Oregon. The only documented case of grand jury abuse in Oregon in the last quarter century happened here in Astoria in 1993. That summer, then-District Attorney Julie Leonhardt, angry at the Astoria Police for not giving “special treatment” to her boyfriend on a reckless driving charge, somehow got the grand jury to charge two police officers of felonies which they had never committed and for which there was no evidence. Leonhardt’s plan fell apart quickly because Oregon grand jury indictments, then and now, must bear the names of any witnesses who testify.
Leonhardt was barred from office by the governor, indicted, recalled, convicted, jailed and eventually disbarred.
Grand jurors are seven people picked at random by court staff. They serve together for two months, act as a check and balance on the power of the district attorney and take an active role in asking questions and deliberating on the cases that come before them. I’ve asked several former grand jurors their opinion of this bill. They think it’s a lousy idea.
If the bill passes, every question by every grand juror, every answer by every witness, will be recorded, primarily to give defense attorneys the opportunity to challenge indictments and to confront victims with any inconsistent responses. My educated guess is that a substantial number of vulnerable victims, who are often terrified of the court system, would simply refuse to testify. The bill will have a particularly chilling effect on victims of child abuse, sex abuse and domestic violence.
SB-365 will not bring Oregon into line with more than 30 other states. Most states, including Idaho and California, forego grand juries in favor of preliminary hearings, a public minitrial without a jury. They are time-consuming and expensive, but do “preserve” testimony, should a witness vanish, refuse to testify again or claim later they can’t remember. Should SB-365 pass, many prosecutors, including myself, may well decide to conduct preliminary hearings on tougher cases. Although the method is different, the outcome is the same: recorded testimony.
You can’t simply drop a $40 recorder on a table and call it good. Each of the three courtrooms in Clatsop County is outfitted with microphones and a recording system that is operated by the courtroom’s judicial assistant. Each recording is marked, timed, logged and secured. The county bore all the cost of including a dedicated grand jury room when it renovated the courthouse a few years ago. Installing a recording system would likewise be on the county’s dollar.
The Oregonian admitted that, “It’s worth noting that secrecy in itself is not a bad thing. The confidential nature of grand jury proceedings means that those who are about to be indicted won’t have advance warning and take off, for instance. Those whom the grand jury declines to indict are never publicly identified, either — saving them from being unfairly stigmatized.”
No prosecutor, no grand juror, wants to charge an innocent person with a crime. We simply don’t have a history of that happening, either in Clatsop County or Oregon. The cost of this bill, both in money and in the trust of victims, is too high. If the legislators truly want to create more “transparency,” why not change the evidence code to allow jurors to know a defendant’s actual criminal history?
At the heart of any “reform” should be an existing injustice. SB-365 is a solution in search of a problem. It only addresses No. 1 on the wish list of the one group who will benefit from it, criminal defense attorneys.
Hundreds of Clatsop County citizens have served as grand jurors just while I’ve been Clatsop County’s district attorney. They are your friends, family, your neighbors. Ask them about what they think of the idea,and how difficult it is to get people often at the worst moments of their life tell their story truthfully and completely.
Joshua Marquis was just sworn in last month to his seventh term as Clatsop County District Attorney.