Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guest column: DA shares his view on ballot isssue

By Josh Marquis
For The Daily Astorian
Thursday, October 25, 2007

With Measure 4-123 you have the chance to cast a vote that will send a message about the importance of the independence of your elected district attorney.

In any community, perhaps particularly in a small one like ours, it's not unusual for prominent and influential citizens or their friends and families to become either the victim of a crime or the suspect in a crime. And we all know that it hasn't been so many years since many in the county felt that if you just knew the right person in the DA's office, a criminal case could be made to disappear.

The pervasiveness of that sort of thinking, whether it's really true or not, creates enormous distrust. Citizens may feel that the very fabric of a fair system of justice, in which everyone is equal before the law, is made of whole cloth. That was the environment when I was appointed district attorney in 1994.

It took a few years and the will and resources of previous county commissions to rebuild the office of the district attorney. My philosophy and policies of aggressive advocacy tempered with fairness have restored community confidence in the office and have instilled self-confidence and increased professionalism in the now 18 men and women who work for me.

Some of the decisions the district attorney's office makes are not particularly popular. We don't seek to be popular. Nor do we seek to be feared. We seek to be respected, and I think we are succeeding. Victims report great satisfaction with the way the district attorney's office represents their interests. We enjoy good working relationships with the police agencies, the judges and the many nonprofit agencies that provide support to law enforcement and victims.

Yet this is not enough for most of our current county commissioners. After several failed attempts to convince me to change my well-working philosophy and practices of conducting the work of the district attorney's office, they did the one thing they can do with alacrity: eliminate the supplementary pay the county has provided for the past 12 years - 15 percent of my annual salary. With no good reason. And no notice whatsoever.

I was hit square upside the head on May 14, when the majority of the commission voted to eliminate - immediately upon formal adoption of the budget the next month - my $13,900 annual supplement.

The county has supplemented my state salary for the past 12 years because I am a county department head, with all the duties of every other county department head. Thirty to 40 percent of my time is spent hiring, training and supervising the six lawyers and 11 support staff in my office, and managing the department's budget of $1.3 million of your county tax dollars - frugally and creatively, returning tens of thousands of dollars to the general fund each year.

The commissioners say they have no idea what I do or what my office does, despite very detailed annual budget presentations and a $10,000 workload study that they commissioned last year.

Ironically, while they say they have no idea what I do, they've asked me to file more cases, particularly felonies, because the state provides money to the county probation department when people are convicted of felonies and receive a sentence of probation.

The commissioners don't want a fair and impartial system of justice. They want a revenue stream.

I refuse.

Their response? Personal attacks on me and my family. Using your tax dollars to fight an enormously popular ballot initiative. Lying in the paper, at meetings and in glossy mailers.

You are probably sick and tired of this fighting. So am I. Since April I've invited them to come to the courthouse any day, or to meet with me in any forum they prefer. They refuse. They've even hired a Portland law firm, again using your tax dollars, to represent them so that I cannot even approach them at a public county commission meeting.

The only resolution these commissioners are interested in is one that forces me to resign my principles or to simply go away.

The message sent by your "yes" vote on Measure 4-123 is this: The office of the district attorney of Clatsop County provides a tremendous service to the county, and it is the elected district attorney who should make the decisions about how the office operates.

I thank you for your support over the years.



Josh Marquis has been Clatsop County DA since 1994, when he was appointed by Gov. Barbara Roberts. He was elected later that year in a contested election by a 3-to-1 margin and was re-elected in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Q&A

Over the last few days I've been asked a number of questions by some of our local media. Here are their questions and my answers.

1. Does your office have access to a management software program that can generate data on the workload in your office?

The DACMS (District Attorney's Case Management System) contains the raw data from which questions can be asked and answered. The most important starting point is, "What do you want to know?" There is no one in my office with the capability of managing such software but I think the DACMS system could be programmed by an IT person to generate any number of reports. In many counties the IT department devotes an entire programmer to the DA's office because of the unique requirements of that office. Otherwise, the workload of my office is most easily measured by examining court data, although that does not include the many cases we screen out.


2. If you have this software available why not just give those workload measurements to the county?

As noted above, the software is available but is not currently configured to provide the measurements the county has requested.

However, the workload measurements were given to the county in the 2006 LGPI (Local Government Personnel Insitute) report. LGPI was selected by County Manager Scott Derickson, commissioned by Mr. Derickson and reported back to Mr. Derickson. LGPI used data that can actually be compared from one county to another -- usually data from the OJIN (Oregon Justice Information Network). Much of this data is very easily accessed. You can find a link to the LGPI workload study and its executive summary here.

Neither the Commissioners nor Mr. Derickson have ever told me what they want measured, despite a number of written requests -- better to say pleas -- from me. Do they want conviction rates? Do they want number of cases declined? Much of this information could be generated, albeit at some time and expense mainly to staff. But before we start generating any reports we have to know what they want. The DA's office is a very lean operation, with every single employee directly providing prosecution services. Ask the LGPI consultant, Diana Moffat, who prepared the study.


3. If you don’t have software of this type, does someone keep track of how many hours your lawyers put in?

No. Unlike law firms that bill by the hour, no DA's office that I know of keeps hourly billing. It is extremely time intensive. It makes a lot of sense when you are billing a client $2,405.00 and need to justify that bill, but it is meaningless in the public sector context. This is precisely where I, as the department head, spend time managing my staff, making sure they are indeed putting in the necessary time on the necessary duties. I am quite confident that the taxpayers are getting at least 50 hours a week from most if not all of my lawyers, and that those lawyers are working for the public during all of those hours.

There is a reason most counties pay supplements averaging $19,000 a year to their elected DAs: They are getting a darned good bargain for a county department head.


4. On plea bargaining: Who, besides Commissioner Ann Samuelson, has seriously suggested you not accept a felony conversion to a misdemeanor. You said you are feeling pressured to do so.

Besides a County Commissioner? Cora Lane, the Director of Community Corrections, has told me point blank that she wants more felonies simply because that is how she is funded.

Mr. Derickson and Central Services director Mike Robison attempted to glean what "percentage of plea bargains" were listed in the DACMS when they churned out their April 2007 report in an attempt to repudiate the April 2006 LGPI workload study. My question is: Why does the county manager want to know the rate of plea bargains?


5. Did you have a direct hand in writing measure 4-123? Did you advise the committee who has brought it forward for a vote?

I advised Commissioner Sam Patrick after he contacted me about his idea of a charter amendment setting the DA's pay. I talked about the need for any such effort to be separate from me and my control. Commissioner Patrick and Don Haskell asked me what sort of standard might best be used to determine a DA's salary. I told them that the Oregon DA's Association has been lobbying the legislature for years to peg DA salaries to that of circuit court judges, a common practice in many states (Texas being one that immediately comes to mind).

I have never said I had "nothing to do" with the formation of this committee. I said I was not the originator of it or its generating force. You would have to believe that people like Don Haskell, Sky Olsen and Larry Taylor would allow themselves to be manipulated to believe that my hand is behind all this. I was in China when most of the work putting the committee got started (as evidenced by the June 4 e-mail which was in fact sent from Beijing International Airport).

I have attended some of the committee's meetings and answered questions much like I am doing right now.


6. Did someone within the leadership of the state DA association have a hand in this?

No. Other DA's have been very supportive and written letters but no other DA has been involved in any way to my knowledge.


7. Does measure 4-123 have the potential to justify a statewide measure if it is successful?

Measure 4-123 has started the first-ever statewide conversation about DA pay, as evidenced by editorials in the Oregonian on August 1 and the Eugene Register-Guard shortly thereafter. Many DAs do not want the supplement issue messed with, most having good relationships with their County Commissions. Measure 4-123, if passed, will prompt the legislature to examine DA pay and finally do something about it.
By contrast, the act of cutting my supplement is of no interest any more than it was when it happened in Coos, Polk, or Hood River counties years ago.


8. Did you force this situation to further the goals of the DA association in linking DA pay to Circuit Court Judge pay? Are you the guinea pig?

Absolutely not. This situation is very uncomfortable for me with my colleagues, most of whom are treated well by their county governments. This has been sheer torture if evidenced by nothing more than my weight loss of almost 30 pounds over the past year, which I wish I could attribute to good health and exercise but is nothing more than sheer stress.


9. Why did we need a third circuit court judge in the first place?


Judge Phil Nelson and Judge Paula Brownhill two incredibly hard-working judges, have been lobbying for another judge for nearly 10 years. (Judge Brownhill started the lobbying hard with the Gleaves Commission.) Columbia County, with a similar population but much lower case filings, has had three judges for some time; and Tillamook, with about half our filings, has had two judges and a justice of the peace.

Bottom line is that the two judges were working 60+ hour weeks; the dockets were so packed that all lawyers -- prosecutors, criminal and civil -- were complaining; and citizens (victims, accused, and civil clients) were not getting a reasonably speedy timely resolution of cases.

Although I knew it would mean nothing more than more work -- probably with little or no funding -- I actively supported the third judge. At one point I was the only local attorney who went with Judge Brownhill to Salem to pitch the case. Sen. Betsy Johnson sealed the deal in the 2003 legislature when that body approved the creation of four new judgeships, one each for Clatsop, Umatilla, Clackamas and Jackson counties.

It's not hard to see the reason. Just go to the state court website for cases file for the last five years and you'll see that Clatsop has much more than its share - probably because of tourists and other transients (in the legal, not pejorative sense).


10. What impact has that third judge had on your office, and why do you need two more staff because of the third judge?

Pretty simple. Our workload is determined by two ends of the giant justice/sausage machine: crimes committed and people arrested at one end; and, at the other end, the court appearances (not just trials but arraignments, probation violations, motions, and on and on) at which the DA is required to appear.

Going from two judges handling criminal cases to three is very basic: It is at least a 30 percent and as much as a 50 percent increase in required court appearances for our prosecutors. Determining and confirming this was the whole reason for the LGPI study, selected and commissioned by County Manager Scott Derickson.


11. How many days do you and your staff spend in court?


Every single weekday the courts are open. On rare occasions the judges may have a civil trial or a reduced docket but virtually all the lawyers are in one of the three courtrooms every day. Plus, we have Grand Jury twice a week, which is for all purposes a "fourth" courtroom.

It is an extremely rare day that I do not personally appear in court. I have personally tried three jury trials in the last eight weeks and I deliberately do the daily in-custody arraignments. It's a good management practice because it's a way of guaging what is being filed and making an intelligent release recommendation to the judge, particularly now that there is no Release Officer. I can't simply ask the court to keep everyone locked up. I have to keep my eye on the jail population and matrix, which I take with me every day to arraignments.


12. How many days are there attorneys from your office (you or your deputies) in all three courtrooms?

As I have told Commissioner Pat Roberts many times: Almost every day one or more of my deputies are in all three courtrooms at different times during the day. We generate daily dockets that verify this.


13. How many hours do you or your office spend on civil commitments in a year?

I agreed to start doing civil commitments -- which had been "piece worked" out to County Counsel, apparently on an hourly basis -- in exchange for the Commissioners not giving me too much grief when I went from four to five Deputy DAs. I think that was about eight or nine years ago. We do not keep track of the hours we spend on them. The $10,000 figure that I stated at a County Commission meeting a few months ago is what county management told me they were spending back in 1998 or whenever. I'm sure it would be much more now.

Civil commitments tend to come in bursts. I usually personally handle them only because it requires some specialized knowledge about "AMI law" (referring to an Alleged Mentally Ill person.) I'd guess we do about 25 a year and they take about two to four hours each just in courtroom time. We never know about them until 24 hours before court, so we have to crash prepare for them. The courts just jam them in anywhere they can on their busy dockets -- another reason I personally take them because my deputies are already over-committed to their own court appearances.

Keep in mind we do a number of things that other county departments used to do:

(a) We manage the Medical Examiner program, at the request of Dr. Joann Stefanelli who was unhappy being managed out of the Health Department, which did virtually nothing, provided her nothing and charged the county $6,000 a year for "administering" the program. We provide Joann a car, a desk, phone, mailbox and private office and we charge the county nothing.

(b) We handle forfeitures, which are usually tied to drug cases. This is when the county, usually the Sheriff, is trying to seize what is almost certainly drug money. Normally this is a civil matter. The number of forfeitures have declined but we provide legal advice and court appearances for free.

(c) We handle Writs of Habeas Corpus -- suits filed against the Sheriff by an inmate for any number of reasons. These are fairly complicated civil cases. They are not common but require very specialized legal knowledge. My Chief Deputy, Ron Brown, is very well-versed in the law and we handle the cases -- again, for nothing.

(d) We appear at Juvenile Dependency cases -- not Delinquency cases, which we also do but those are kid crimes. Many DA's, citing time and budget constraints, do not provide Deputy DAs for these hearings which are very complicated and drawn out. Judge Brownhill handles these cases and considers them a very high priority. The legislature considers them important as well and has authorized several million dollars so assistant attorney generals can make some of these appearances.

(e) We provide training for local police agencies, almost always outside office hours and on weekends. The lawyers (and I) who do this don't get time off or pay for this. We consider this an important obligation to keep the seven police agencies in Clatsop County up to date on the ever-changing criminal law.

(f) By state law the DA is the Public Records arbiter for any requests of agencies below state government. I have to render a legal decision when a citizen of the press demands documents and the governmental agency declines to turn them over. Not a lot, but maybe a dozen a year.


Now here are some questions from me:

1. How do you think the DA's office is performing? Are we bungling cases? Do the police agencies feel well-served by us? The Sheriff's Department? The Oregon State Police? What about other community partners like the Women's Resource Center, DHS, the Juvenile Department and CASA? Ask them.

2. What do exit interviews from staff leaving the DA's office show? Are there grievances or complaints?

3. Has the DA's office generated any lawsuits the county has had to defend?

4. Is the DA's office winning important cases?

5. Do citizens feel the DA's office is accessible to them and can they reach the DA when they need to?

6. Do victims feel as if they have been served?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What a County!

I just want to say how just really impressed and grateful I am for the people in this community. Last week a grassroots group of people worked over 2-1/2 days and gathered over 2800 signatures. When at least 1195 are certified to be valid, the Independent DA initiative will be on the November ballot.

I am just in awe of what these folks did. These are Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, people from Knappa and Cannon Beach and Astoria. They went out in the rain. I frankly didn't think it was possible to do it in the short of amount of time they had.

The Independent DA initiative is not all about me. It's about the office of the District Attorney, and I think it will lead to some very positive discussions and positive outcomes for my office long after I'm no longer District Attorney.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Thank You For The Support

There is a lot of controversy going on after what I consider some cheap shots at me and my office. I try to be a straight-talker and here I’ll try to be a straight-writer.
I've now served as Clatsop County's DA for going on 14 years. I was just re-elected to a fourth term and I have never had the kind of response that I have experienced in the last couple months. No matter where I am -- in the market, the dry cleaners, the post office, a restaurant or just on the street -- a citizen, often one who has never met me, will touch me on the shoulder and say, "Hang in there, Josh. We're with you." I am humbled by this incredible support.
I deal in a business that is conflict-rich and I get all the conflict I need in the courtroom. It benefits neither me, my staff, nor county government to be embroiled in constant dispute. But some things are worth fighting for. The independence of the office of District Attorney is worth it.
Amending the Charter was not my idea. I’m not sure who first thought of it but the idea caught fire with a lot of people. I’m not a member of the committee that is working to get the proposed amendment onto the November ballot, although various of its members have sought my counsel about exactly how the county budget process works and how I have been involved in it.
As you might expect, I enthusiastically support the efforts of the Committee. I won’t be DA forever, but I will be for the at least the next three-and-a-half years. I’ve worked the legislature trying to get more state funding for fair pay for elected DAs and to help the counties fund prosecutors’ offices. We’ve had some success, but not much. Maybe this grass-roots movement will help convince the legislature that ensuring their county is represented by an independent District Atttorney, one who is not subject to personal and political pressure, is an important issue, and one to which it should respond.
Many people have asked me how they can help. The Committee will have only two-and-a-half days to collect at least 1200 signatures, starting about noon on Monday. Several of them have taken days off from work. They need your help. Here is some contact information. Call or write now:
  • IndependentDA@gmail.com
  • Larry Taylor, President -- 971-235-7164 -- lawrence_d_taylor@yahoo.com
  • Sky Olsen, Treasurer -- 791-4973 -- sky_olsen@charter.net
Additional local contacts are given on the Committee’s website at http://www.independentda.com/waystohelp.html.
Their site also includes a comprehensive archive of news articles and editorials, and answers a long list of Frequently Asked Questions.
The issue is simple -- Should the DA's salary be free from local political whims? -- and I hope that the last-minute, vexatious attempts to delay a November vote will not prevail.
I’ve run a fiscally-sound county department for more than a dozen years. This year, as before, I came in under budget (about $55,000 this year). Every year I meet all the requirements and deadlines embedded in a long and elaborate County budget process. I’m an elected official accountable really only to the voters of Clatsop County, but I’m dependent on the County Commission to fund virtually all the DA’s office. This sets up a natural tension that results, among other things, in my budget discussions with and presentations to the County generally being more detailed than any other office.
Some claim that I don’t cooperate with the process or that I don’t supply performance measures. The record speaks for itself.
I submitted performance measures to the County Manager in late January and never heard any complaint from his office or any of the County Commissioners. The only issue on the table was whether the County would provide stable, long-term funding for the two additional personnel -- one lawyer and one trial assistant -- the County had allowed me to hire beginning in December 2006, to help service the workload that would come with the new, full-time, third judge who would be starting in January 2007. It’s not so easy to hire people, particularly lawyers, when you have to tell them that the position may be good only for the next six months. And it’s tough on everyone -- the office staff, the judges, the victims of crimes -- when you can barely get a new lawyer trained before she or he is out the door.
I invited both Jeff Hazen and Ann Samuelson, as new commissioners, to my office four days before the Budget Hearing to discuss that issue in particular and to see whether they had any other concerns about my budget. They made no promises about funding the positions and expressed no additional concerns.
I was therefore completely speechless -- rare for me -- when Jeff Hazen made his surprise, philosophically-based proposal to remove the County’s supplement to my own income -- a 16 percent pay cut -- and when it was seconded and approved.
It seems this fundamental unfairness is what has motivated the Committee and its many volunteers.
I thank them, I thank you, for your support and kind words. (See also editorials in the Oregonian and the Register-Guard.)
You can be sure I will continue to passionately advocate for I believe is true and just.


You Win Some, You Lose Some

Every summer the National District Attorney’s Association (NDAA) holds a week-long conference during which elected and deputy prosecutors from around the country commune with each other and have much-needed fellowship.
I was born in southern California but I’m proud of Oregon where I’ve lived 44 of my 54 years, and particularly of Astoria, and had been wanting to bring the conference here, or as close to here as has great conference facilities for 300 people and their families. I’ve been pitching Portland and specifically the Portland Downtown Hilton -- it’s a good union hotel -- so first I found that it was available during the already-scheduled conference time and suggested they make a proposal, and for the first time in 57 years of meetings the NDAA met in Oregon.
On Saturday night the Oregon DA’s Association (ODAA; they have no website) hosted a welcome reception at the Red Star Tavern in downtown Portland, with the festivities punctuated by delightful welcomes from the current ODAA President, John Foote (Clackamas), long-time Multnomah County DA and the dean of Oregon prosecutors Mike Schrunk, and State Senator Betsy Johnson, who co-sponsored the event. Betsy fondly calls me “the DA from Hell.”
A couple years ago I decided to run for President of the NDAA, having served three years as a vice president (there are several vice presidents and you do not automatically move up in the ranks). There was another contender, State’s Attorney Joe Cassilly of Harford County, Maryland.
Joe served as Treasurer during a rough patch for our organization, and oversight of the organization was his campaign theme. I promised to continue to speak out on behalf of America’s prosecutors, continuing to educate the public about the reality of the justice system and knocking down the myths created by popular culture.
At the election last Sunday I lost -- or more appropriately, Joe Cassilly won.
People how ask why I lost. Because Joe got more votes.
How many? Don’t know. It’s secret.
What could I have done differently? I’d have gotten more votes.
We are all friends with our brother and sister prosecutors at NDAA. I remain on the Board of Directors and will continue to serve as Chair of our Media and Communications Committee.



Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Take local politics out of paying DA's

Oregon should set full salaries for district attorneys, as it does for judges, and the state, not counties, should pay them.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007
The Oregonian
I t always was just a matter of time before outspoken and aggressive Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis rubbed other local elected officials the wrong way.
Last month, for reasons no one seems willing or able to fully explain, Clatsop County commissioners voted 4-1 to eliminate the county's share of Marquis' salary, abruptly docking the DA of 15 percent of his pay, or $13,500 a year. Marquis' $79,000 annual salary is now less than his chief deputy's.
Marquis says the commissioners lopped off his county supplement as political payback after his wife, Cindy Price, ran against Commissioner Richard Lee in the past election. The four commissioners who slashed Marquis' salary (Lee voted no) offered various justifications, but it's clear they have personal and political differences with Marquis.
You'd like to think the top law enforcement officer in every Oregon county would have some protection from petty politics. But Oregon is operating with an archaic system that supposes a combination of state and local pay for district attorneys. The state pays a base salary of $94,332 for DAs in the nine counties of more than 100,000 people, and $79,512 for the DAs in the 27 less-populated counties. Most of the counties provide pay supplements, ranging from a few thousand dollars a year to up to $47,000 a year in Multnomah County.
There's a problem here that goes beyond Marquis' dust-up with the Clatsop commissioners. Many of Oregon's smaller, poorer counties, especially those that temporarily lost their federal timber payments, have cut their DA pay supplements. That's led to a growing number of inequities in district attorney pay. As The Oregonian's Lori Tobias reported, because Coos County DA Paul Burgett does not get a supplement, he makes about $17,000 a year less than the Crook County district attorney, even though Burgett oversees law enforcement in a county with nearly three times the population of Crook County.
That's not fair. More important, the county supplements have the effect of turning district attorneys into county supplicants -- more vulnerable than they should be to the political whims and wishes of the other local officials who have a say over their salaries.
The next Legislature ought to set equitable district attorney salaries around the state, and it should fully fund them, eliminating all county supplements. That's the way Oregon pays its judges. It's not a perfect system -- Oregon's judicial salaries themselves are too low, and county commissioners could still play politics with the office budgets of district attorneys.
But it would be better than the current system, which has led not just to the spectacle in Clatsop County, but to glaring inequities in district attorney pay across the state.



©2007 The Oregonian

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Good-Bye to Three Good Employees

The Clatsop District Attorney's Office will soon lose a total of 25 years of experience when three valued employees leave the District Attorney's Office over the next month. District Attorney Josh Marquis explained that Peggy Tomlin, a senior trial assistant who had worked for the Office for almost 11 years, is taking a much-deserved retirement on July 20. "We're going to miss Peggy very much," Marquis said. "She came to us with lots of experience in the Portland D.A.'s office and is the first person to ever retire from the Clatsop County D.A.'s office."

Also departing in August are Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Lang and Deputy District Attorney Sharon Waldman.

Lang has been with the D.A.'s office for more than nine years and leaves as the senior deputy district attorney having specialized in cases of elder abuse, vehicular assault and embezzlement cases. "Mark's leaving is a real loss to the community," Marquis said. Lang will become Executive Director of the Western Sierra Medical Clinic in Downieville, in California's Gold Rush Country in the Sierras, where Lang's family lives.

Sharon Waldman has been a prosecutor for five years, having first worked as a judicial clerk for Judge Paula Brownhill. Waldman specialized in fish-and-game cases as well as a wide variety of crimes. Waldman will be entering private practice in Astoria with attorney Glenn Faber (who served as Clatsop County's chief deputy D.A. during the late 1980s). Waldman will be handling child custody, wills, divorce and real estate law in her new practice. Marquis said that "Waldman had done tremendous work as a Deputy D.A. and will do very well for her future clients."

Marquis said that while it is unusual for so many dedicated employees to leave during a short time period, for each of them opportunities arose which made their choices right for them at this time. "We are very lucky to have an incredibly dedicated staff of prosecutors, trial assistants, and victims' assistants," Marquis said. "On top of doing twice as much work as similar offices according to a county study last year, the men and women of the District Attorney's Office maintain a great team spirit even as they moved into greatly reduced office space to save costs on the remodeling of the courthouse."

The District Attorney's Office worked through its two-day move but is now open to the public on the main floor of the courthouse, in what was formerly the Clerk and Elections' Office.

Marquis said they were already screening applicants to fill the vacancy left by Peggy Tomlin and will be seeking applications for the two deputy prosecutor positions, which constitute a third of the lawyer staff in the office.

Marquis said that the County Commission's decision to cut the D.A.'s staff first of all county functions if there's a future budget crunch would present some challenges in hiring new staff. "We never run out of customers and never advertise for more work. Our goal is to make Clatsop County a safe and decent place for all its citizens."

For more information call Josh Marquis at 503-338-3614.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Citizens Act

A genuine grass roots coalition including the Chairs of the County Democratic and Republican Committees, along with former County Commission Vice Chair Don Haskell, gunsmith Sky Olsen, Steve Phillips and Myrna Patrick have formed the Committee to Retain the Independence of the Office of the District Attorney. Their intent is to amend the County's Home Rule Charter and provide a long-term fix to provide responsible and stable funding for the office of the District Attorney.

I obviously support the Committee, and not just because it addresses my personal situation. Much more importantly, their proposal gets at the core issue: Is the constitutional office of the District Attorney independent or can the DA be punished by the County Commissioners for his or her independence.

Since the Commissioners abruptly eliminated the supplemental salary they had provided over the previous 13 years of my service, thereby cutting my salary by 16 percent, many people have come up to me in stores, on the street, and called me and asked, What can I do?If you are so inclined, contact the Committee at independentda@gmail.com.

Their website is www.independentda.com.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Voices of Support

Thanks very much to everyone who wrote and called, and especially to the people who took time out of their day to attend the meeting. The Commissioners have put off a decision until their final meeting of the budget year on June 27th.

Here's Cassandra Profita's report of the meeting, published in the Daily A. It's a good report but unfortunately couldn't include the many eloquent and moving comments.

Marquis receives voices of support
Clatsop County residents sound off for reinstating stipend for DA;
board still has time to change budget
By CASSANDRA PROFITA
The Daily Astorian
June 14, 2007

Clatsop County residents rallied in support of District Attorney Josh Marquis at the county commission budget hearing Wednesday.

About 50 people crowded into the Judge Guy Boyington building to sound off on last month's budget committee decision to cut Marquis' $13,900 stipend from the county's 2007-08 budget.

The list of people who asked the commission to return the stipend before approving the budget included former county commissioners, current county employees and concerned citizens. State Sen. Betsy Johnson and state Reps. Deborah Boone and Brad Witt have written letters to commissioners asking them to reconsider.

Three people, including former defense attorney and municipal judge Nicholas Zafiratos, voiced support for the budget committee's decision at the hearing.

When the public comment session at Wednesday's hearing was through, Commissioner Sam Patrick made a motion to reinstate the stipend and - despite applause from the audience - found no support from his fellow commissioners. His motion died for lack of a second.

However, Wednesday's meeting was not the last chance for the board to make changes to the budget.

Pat Roberts was the only commissioner who said she would consider the matter between now and the next meeting June 27, when the board will vote to approve the entire $60 million spending package.

Those pushing for the stipend to be restored told commissioners that cutting the district attorney's pay would make the county less competitive, put public safety in jeopardy and malign a department head who goes beyond the call of duty. The decision was "abrupt" and appeared "mean-spirited," they said. And some argued that in addition to straining an already adversarial relationship between county leaders and Marquis, the move wouldn't go far toward pressuring the state into paying higher salaries to district attorneys.

In May, a budget committee made up of commissioners and citizen members voted 7-2 to cut the county's discretionary stipend from the budget, reducing Marquis' total pay to the $79,512 salary he receives from the state. Commissioner Jeff Hazen initiated the vote to make the cut and found support from citizen committee members and commissioners Ann Samuelson and Roberts. Commissioners Patrick and Richard Lee voted no.

The hearing came after months of disagreement between Marquis and county leaders over the budget for the district attorney's office. Over the course of several months as the county budget process progressed the funding for two new deputy district attorneys was in the spotlight and raised questions of how much work the DA's office actually does. Confusion over what kind of performance measures were available and necessary aggravated what some commissioners have called an adversarial relationship between Marquis and the county.

Tensions rose so high between County Manager Scott Derickson and Marquis that at one point Commissioner Hazen intervened via e-mail and told Marquis to stop his "tyrannical attacks." At one point, county leaders were considering the need for a professional mediator to improve communications with Marquis.

At the hearing, Hazen said he did not see the need for a mediator, but he wanted to set up a work session with Marquis to build a better relationship.

Some residents criticized the surprise factor of the committee's decision and told commissioners their process was wrong and their explanation didn't add up, while supporters said the board had the right to do what it did.

Burr Allegaert, a former county budget committee member, told commissioners they could have reduced the stipend gradually if they believed, on principle, the county shouldn't supplement a state employee's salary. That would have given them time to start negotiating with the state to pay Marquis more. Instead, they decided to "lop it off altogether" in an "unfair procedure" that was "not in the purview of the committee and "was sprung almost as an afterthought."

"As a citizen, I want my county government to be public, above board," said Astoria resident Roger Rocka. "There's something about the process by which the stipend was removed that bothers me. If the reasons stated for cutting the stipend are true, they defy logic and common sense."

Zafiratos said in the budget committee's decision had "nothing to do" with whether Marquis is a good attorney.

"Technically, in court he's good," he said. "It comes down to you have the authority and the duty to do what you did. ... I commend your action and hope you keep doing the right thing."

Three former county commissioners weighed in on the issue, one of whom, Bob Green, who lives in Seaside, gave measured support for the committee's decision. The county was in a tight budget situation, said Green, and Marquis acted "childish" after his stipend was cut.

"Josh has diverted valuable staff and commissioners' time so he can play his ego game," said Green. He gets "a failing grade" for the way he has dealt with the commission, he said, though he does better in the courtroom and the commission should lobby the state legislature to increase salaries to district attorneys.

Former county commissioner Tim Gannaway said he "was never a rubber stamp for Josh Marquis" when he sat on the board, but he still asked the commissioners to reconsider.

"I don't see how cutting the stipend would motivate the state to increase funding for district attorneys," he said. The cut in pay was more likely to make Marquis less cooperative and more contentious, and because he's an elected official, the county manager "can't just fire him," Gannaway said. "We could do worse than Josh, and in the past we have."

Former county commissioner Tom Carmichael, who was in town visiting from Arizona, said keeping the stipend keeps the county competitive.

"I haven't always gotten along with Josh Marquis, but he's done his best for Clatsop County," said Carmichael. "If you're going to keep a good district attorney - and I believe Josh Marquis is a good district attorney - you've got to be competitive."

In other business, the board voted 3-2 to hold all of its regular meetings in the Judge Guy Boyington Building in Astoria with a stipulation that meetings with items of significance to a specific district or community on an agenda can be held in other locations. Previously the commission alternated between Astoria and Seaside. Patrick and Roberts voted no.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

County Slashes DA's Pay

(Reference "Spitting in My Face," by Tom Bennett, in the Daily Astorian, May 17, 2007.)

Those of you outside Clatsop County may think the dispute detailed in the above Daily Astorian article is a purely local issue. It is not. The decision of a majority of the County Commissioners to abruptly slash my pay by more than 15% goes to the issue of the independence of the elected prosecutor from petty local politics.

Thanks to the many people who have called, written, e-mailed, and approached me on the street. Most people have asked what they can do. Please write to the Commissioners and, to ensure your voice is heard, copy the Daily Astorian.

Clatsop County Commissioners, 800 Exchange Ave., Astoria OR 97103
The Editor, Daily Astorian, 949 Exchange St., Astoria OR 97103 (editor@dailyastorian.com)

More importantly, come to the Public Hearing the Clatsop County Commission will hold on Wednesday, June 13, at the beautifully restored and almost never used "Boyington Building," at the corner of Duane and 8th in Astoria (some parking in back). The meeting begins at 9:00am, and Public Comment is early on the agenda.

Make no mistake: This is a personal attack, partly in adolescent pique at the that fact my wife, Cindy Price, dared to run against an incumbent County Commissioner last year, partly because of my aggressive prosecution. I have always prosecuted any case without respect to who the defendant is or who they are related to. In a small town a diligent prosecutor will invariably alienate the friends and family members of those people who are convicted of crimes ranging from DUII to Manslaughter. I have also been relentless in my criticism of the shenanigans involving the Astoria Municipal Court and DUII cases. I'm an outspoken advocate for crime victims, and my fellow prosecutors and I am frequently asked to comment by national print and broadcast media. I am currently Vice President of the National District Attorneys Association and am a candidate for the Presidency; the election is in July, in Portland, Oregon, at NDAA's summer conference. Former OJ Simpson defense attorney Barry Scheck recently sent a three- page diatribe to the NDAA President and members of the Board of Directors personally attacking me for my national advocacy in an effort to dissuade my fellow prosecutors from electing me their president. I doubt many will be convinced.
In 2002 I tried the most recent capital murder case in Clatsop County, against a killer named Anthony Scott Garner. As part of the case defense attorneys claimed his co-defendant couldn't get a fair trial and obtained the services of one of Oregon's best pollsters, Mark Nelson, to measure the mood of the county. In addition to the questions about whether the approximately 350 citizens sampled had heard of the case, the poll asked an unusual question: "Do you have an opinion about the District Attorney, Josh Marquis?" Roughly 75% of those polled did. They were asked to rate my performance as either "poor," "fair," "good," or "excellent." Over 70% rated me as “good” or “excellent” and less than 10% as poor.

If I do my job right I'll probably have about 20% of the county upset at me for either prosecuting or not prosecuting their neighbor/friend/brother/daughter. Since I arrived in Astoria, in 1994, I've heard that I'm "just passing through town" and am using the job for bigger things. I have now served as DA longer than anyone since the depression-era DA, Garnet Green, almost a century ago. I have run the DA's office longer than any head of any county department currently working. Scott Derickson is the fifth person to hold the job of County Manager since I took office.

Now here are the details on what has happened.

Like all Oregon DAs, I am a State officer, elected by the citizens of Clatsop County. As in every other DA’s office in the state, all the Deputy DAs and other staff are County employees. State law requires me to prosecute cases but says nothing about administering a county department. I run what is essentially the largest law firm in the county and spend probably 30% of my time on the same administrative functions as every other county department head, all of whom are paid anywhere from $70,000 to $95,000 thousand a year.

Each year there is an elaborate budget process, the terms and deadlines for which are mandated by the County Manager, who is the CEO of Clatsop County under the county's Home Rule Charter and more importantly the County's Budget Officer.

This year -- the 14th for me -- the budget process began as usual. I spent many hours prepping the budget for my department (about $1.2 million) before submitting it to the County Manager for his comment and recommendation.

On March 17, I met with Scott Derickson and his team, Asst. County Administrator Deb Kraske and Central Services Director Mike Robison (both of whom will now be paid more than I beginning July 1). They said there were no issues or problems with my budget. The County Manager, who has great power, never communicated to me that either my office’s budget or my own supplement were in jeopardy.

In the Budget, Scott Derickson recommended the same funding as I had requested, but later churned out a 20-plus-page memo with color charts. This April 17 memo uses numbers taken from the word processing program called DACMS that the DA’s office uses to generate paperwork to make the claim that, while the caseload has been flat, the personnel budget of my office is skyrocketing, increasing 50% in just over 7 years.

In fact the DA’s office personnel budget has increased less than that of the entire County personnel budget. Nevertheless, the phony numbers form an argument the County Manager is using to prevent the secured funding of the two new staff my office received at last year’s budget hearing, staff that represented only half of the minimum additional staff recommended by a study commissioned by the County Manager prior to last year’s budget. That study, by the Local Government Policy Institute (LGPI), cost taxpayers something over $10,000. It looked at how much work my office does compared to other counties and what, if any, additional staff was needed to meet the addition of the new circuit judge. The LGPI study recommended a minimum of 4 new staff (2 lawyers and 2 support staff), and ideally 7.5 (3 lawyers and 4.5 support staff). I requested 4 and received 2, and was required to tell the new hires that their jobs were at risk of being cut at any time.

On May 6, I met with Commissioners Jeff Hazen and Ann Samuelson, in my office, specifically to discuss the upcoming Budget hearing. Neither indicated any problem with the County Manager’s public profession to recommend my budget as I had proposed it, and neither made any mention of my stipend.

Nevertheless, given prior history, you might imagine that I expected I’d have to defend retaining the two positions the County grudgingly added to my budget in December 2006. I was particularly concerned after finding County budget documents which I had never seen before posted on a local blog site later in the day on May 6. I made a formal demand on May 7, four days before the Budget hearing, that I be provided copies of whatever the County Manager was sending the Budget Committee. The County Manager’s office complied and, while reviewing the documents over the weekend, I discovered another concern: there were several memos written by the County Manager about my supplement, about DA compensation, and about the pay of other County department heads. Was my own supplement going to be threatened, without any prior notice?

At the Budget Hearing , the Committee whipped through about $50 million of the budget in two hours. At 11:30 Commissioner Hazen suggested that the "next item," the DA's budget, would take longer and proposed an early lunch break.

After lunch I made a brief presentation, with some focus on the value of the two positions (one lawyer and one trial assistant) added just six months ago. Presiding Judge Phil Nelson spoke for their need, saying that a third judge and the increased complexity of litigation overall was creating more work for the DA's office. As I had expected, the discussion centered the conditions under which the two positions would be retained.

The Commissioners, Jeff Hazen in particular, expressed their willingness to continue funding only if I came up with performance measures that were acceptable to the County Manager -- and, more significantly, said that in the event of any budget shortfall those positions would be the first to be eliminated, a position that is in direct contradiction to their stated policy that in the event of cutbacks public safety services will be cut last.

I asked whether the two positions would be guaranteed through the end of fiscal year, in June 2008 -- in other words, can I assure my Deputy DA and my trial assistant of at least one year's employment? The Commissioners insisted that it would be up to them and the County Manager to determine whether and when the budget would need to be reduced, and that the axe could fall at any time.

I responded that it seemed ridiculous to balance the County $57 million budget on the backs of two staff members of the DA’s office costing a total of about $122,000 a year. No other department is being asked to make or is threatened with reductions. There was no response.

According to the agenda, at this time we would have moved on to the Child Support budget, another division in the DA’s budget.

Instead, Commissioner Hazen moved to “take the DA’s stipend to zero.” There was virtually no discussion. County Manager Scott Derickson, whose pay will be $102,500 in July and who has as a primary duty that of being the County’s budget officer, didn't say a word during the brief discussion among committee members about my stipend. He is instrumental in this action, as implied by Steve Forrester in his Daily Astorian editorial of May 17 (What's in the water at the courthouse?). Commissioner Richard Lee didn’t say a word. At some point Commissioners Hazen and Samuelson brought up performance measures. It was sort of chaotic. The vote was quickly called, and the decision was 7-2, with Commissioners Sam Patrick and Richard Lee voting against the motion.

Therein lies another couple of tales, the first about performance measures and the second about the County’s supplement to my State pay.

In January 2007, County Manager Derickson and I began a brief e-mail exchange about performance measures. Several departments, including mine and his, had not detailed any performance measures in last year's budget. I asked him what he wanted to measure -- convictions? plea bargains? There is considerable controversy nationwide about how to measure the performance of law enforcement agencies. It's too easy to cook the books. A department head can easily increase convictions by dismissing tougher cases or making plea bargains even easier to attain. I provided Derickson with materials from the American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI) that suggest best practices for performance measures for prosecutors. APRI recommends a public survey. When I conveyed this at the Budget hearing Commissioner Roberts seemed incredulous: "You want a survey?"

The County Manager’s department has among its performance measures the number of hits for the Manager’s web page and the number of board packets prepared.

The County Commissioners have no performance measures, presumably because they are elected officials, like me, and their performance is measured at the ballot box every four years. By those standards, based on the votes cast in the Spring 2006 election, the Commission Chair, Richard Lee, received a 50.5% rating and I received 70%.

Commissioner Hazen has written on his blog and has been repeatedly quoted as saying that his action is not personal but is based on the principle that the County should not continue to fund that which the State will not. (See Clatsop County may trim DA pay, The Oregonian, May 17, 2007.) Three other commissioners have their own, different, stories. The Chair, Richard Lee, who beat my wife by 37 votes in the May 2006 election, told the Oregonian that he actually agreed with the action but voted against it so as not to appear vindictive. He claimed that I had "not co-operated in the budget process." He uttered not a word during the public hearing on May 11. Commissioner Patricia Roberts told Portland radio station KXL that the vote was meant to "send [me] a message." Commissioner Ann Samuelson has told people it was because I had not prepared performance measures.

Here is the DA's budget (County Public Safety Budget, .pdf format). You can see that I indeed submitted performance measures, listed on pages 5 through 7. The response to these measurements from the County Manager's office was their receptionist telling me the measures weren't in the right "format."

It’s abundantly clear from many memos and meetings that I fully participate in every aspect of the budget process. I have consistently met all budget deadlines, not only this year, but for all 14 budget cycles in which I have participated. Some have said that I participate too much, in that I am a strong advocate for the proper funding and staffing of the DA’s office as well as the Sheriff’s department and all other related offices. Perhaps that’s what is meant by not cooperating -- I don’t and won’t go along gently with any attempted dismantling of the justice system in Clatsop County.

My first year as DA, 1994, when I was appointed by the Governor, I did not ask for a supplement to my State salary, figuring that I needed to prove myself and get elected. I beat my opponent by a 79 to 21 percent margin and in 1995 asked for a supplement. The Board of Commissioners allocated $9,000 that year. In the ensuing 12 years the supplement has been under constant threat but has crept up with cost of living adjustments. The supplement has never been a quid pro quo for doing any specific work for the County. I manage a County department, follow County rules, attend County meetings and even perform some non-required legal work -- habeas corpus defense of the Sheriff, civil forfeitures, and mental commitment hearings. My office will continue performing all of those duties regardless of what they do to my pay.

One reason 22 of 36 Oregon counties provide their elected DA’s with a supplement is to ensure the pay of their top law officer is greater than that of their subordinates. The average supplement is $19,000 a year. Clatsop County has a policy of ensuring that bosses earn at least 10% more than the person directly under them. My chief deputy, a great guy who deserves every dime and more, will be paid $84,000 this year, compared to my State pay of $79,500. The average pay of all lawyers in Oregon is about $95,000 a year. Clearly, no one goes into prosecution for the money. We do it because we get to be part of doing justice every day.

In 2004 I asked the five citizen members of the Budget Committee to increase my supplement. The County Manager produced a legal opinion from one of the several lawyers with whom the county contracts for legal advice. The opinion declared that, since I am not a County employee, the Budget Committee, which also constitutes the Elected Officials Compensation Board, had no authority even to consider my request. Apparently their authority is prohibited only as to increasing my pay, not to decreasing it.

If Commissioner Hazen honestly has been concerned about the State’s funding of DA salaries for any length of time, he might have communicated that to our extremely responsive and approachable state lawmakers during one of his many trips to Salem. Instead, to my knowledge neither he nor any of the County Commissioners who voted to cut my pay have ever spoken to any of our State Legislators about the issue. I know for a fact that no one mentioned it to the two State Representatives and one State Senator who represent our county. Hazen might even have forged an alliance with me. Or one would think - if it wasn’t personal - he would have given me a heads up at our meeting a few days before the Budget hearing. Something like “Hey Josh, nothing personal but I don’t think the county should pay any part of your compensation. . . .” But that conversation never happened.

Oregon has a long history of poorly paying its elected state officials, a subject I have been vocal about for years and which I wrote about in the Oregonian a few months ago (see "Culture of Poverty"). That was just one in a long series of efforts I have made to get the State to pay a greater share of the costs of prosecution and to raise the pay of DAs.

I was a key player with the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) in both the 1999 and 2001 legislatures (in 2001 as president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association (ODAA)), seeking passage of Senate Bill 6, proposed by Attorney General Hardy Myers, which tried to reverse the trend of the State laying more and more of the cost of prosecution on the Counties. The ODAA and AOC worked together on the Bill, which started out at $20 million (a biennium) but was whittled down to $5 million by the end of session. Unfortunately, the AOC chose to direct the money provided in 1999 to Assessment and Taxation and to direct that provided in 2001 to Mental Health. I don’t recall anyone from any Clatsop County Commission ever taking part in the dozens of discussions in Salem about this bill or about improving prosecution funding and DA pay in general. And you can imagine why the ODAA has been reluctant to join hands with the AOC since 2001.

It will be clear to any reasonable reader that the actions taken by the Commissioners and the Budget Committee are based on purely personal reasons, not driven by the Budget of the County.

To my supporters, thank you and keep those cards and letter coming. If you are in Clatsop County and have the time, please come to the Budget Hearing on June 13.

To those of you just wanting to know what the bleep is going on, feel free - as always - to post questions or contact me.

To everyone else in Clatsop County, thanks for letting me serve my fourth term as your prosecutor.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What's in the Water?

What's in the water at the courthouse?
Would you inflict a 15 percent pay cut on one of your top managers?
Editorial in the Daily Astorian, May 17, 2007


Imagine that your company has a high visibility top performer. Imagine that his or her department has a high rate of success. Imagine that his or her department must now cover an additional set of clients. Imagine that employee has been with your firm for 13 years.

Would you cut that person's salary by 15 percent? Probably not. It wouldn't make sense.

That's what the Clatsop County Budget Committee did to the district attorney Monday. The county budget process began as a peaceful and businesslike budget discussion. Suddenly it became the annual tug of war over the DA's office budget. The finale - to cut the county's portion of the DA's compensation - was an utter surprise. The first rule of politics and government is: Don't surprise.

The district attorney's compensation has two components: a state share and a much smaller local stipend. Clatsop is one of 22 Oregon counties that supplements its chief prosecutor's salary with a stipend.

There is managerial illogic in cutting the district attorney's salary. There is also a smallness in the behavior of the county commissioners who form the nucleus of the budget committee. One of them, in concert with the others, executed a surprise attack. It is reminiscent of the commission's bad old days which regularly produced boneheaded decisions in the courthouse. Remember when that enlightened bunch decided to make the county's personnel director a half-time position? Remember the afternoon when three commissioners failed in their attempt to fire the county manager so they resigned, which forced Gov. Barbara Roberts to appoint a commissioner in order to obtain a quorum?

That was amateur hour, and this is amateur hour.

You wonder what's in the water at the courthouse. Otherwise-competent people join the county commission and begin to do foolish things.

Within the district attorney's pay cut there is an implicit message from the Board of Commissioners: "We wish you would leave." Or is it: "Don't be such an aggressive prosecutor." Perhaps it's "Go easier on our friends who are charged with drunken driving."

We've seen this plot in bad Westerns. The nefarious saloon owner torches the home of the sheriff or prosecutor to drive him out of town.

Being an effective district attorney doesn't build friendships. Like the county jail, it is an office without a constituency. But there are people in Clatsop County who appreciate having a competent prosecutor at a time when big-league drug operations move into our county and when the county will reliably see a murder or sex crime or animal abuser annually.

If this decision is entirely budget-driven, and not a vindictive, personal attack, then presumably, in a spirit of leadership, County Administrator Scott Derickson will be lining up for his 15 percent salary reduction.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spitting in My Face

Marquis pay cut: 'It's spitting in my face'
County budget battle gets personal as leaders cut stipend instead of two other positions
By TOM BENNETT
The Daily Astorian
Tuesday, May 15, 2007


A looming dispute between District Attorney Josh Marquis and Clatsop County officials took an unusual turn Monday when the county budget committee effectively cut his pay.

The committee voted to eliminate the $13,500 stipend the county adds to the district attorney's state salary. The vote came after the panel supported two positions that had been considered for elimination from Marquis' office.

The move came as a shock to Marquis, who called it a "personal insult."

"I can only take this as a sign of extreme disrespect of my office; it's spitting in my face," he said after the committee meeting.

County Commissioner Jeff Hazen, who proposed the cut, said it had nothing to do with any displeasure with Marquis. Hazen said he's long questioned the county's practice of supplementing the district attorney's salary, even before he was elected to the board of commissioners last year.

"I feel this is another unfunded mandate from the state," he said.

The budget committee, made up of the five county commissioners and five citizen members, voted 7-2, with one of the citizen members absent, to cut Marquis' stipend. Commission Chairman Richard Lee and Commissioner Sam Patrick voted no.

The budget committee's vote amounts to a recommendation to the board of commissioners. But with three of the five commissioners - Hazen, Patricia Roberts and Ann Samuelson - supporting the cut, it will likely be approved when the board formally adopts the 2007-08 county budget next month.

The county stipend supplements Marquis' state salary, which is currently $79,512. The stipend is $13,500 this year and was recommended to increase to $13,900 next budget year.

Marquis said he had no warning that the stipend might be on the chopping block at Monday's budget committee meeting, which had appeared to be shaping up into a showdown over two new positions in the district attorney's office.

Marquis came to Monday's meeting armed with data supporting the continued funding of two new positions, which were added to his office just last year. The two personnel, a deputy prosecutor and assistant, were included in the proposed 2007-08 budget document, but with no recommendation from County Manager Scott Derickson whether the budget committee retain them or not.

The committee voted to approve the two positions, but with the warning that they could be cut later if the county is forced to reduce spending in future years because of revenue shortfalls.

After that vote, the committee turned to the district attorney's stipend, a separate line-item in the budget. Hazen expressed his displeasure with the practice, but the panel appeared to be moving on to the next item when Hazen said he wanted to introduce a motion reducing the supplement to zero.

Hazen said he recognized that district attorneys' salaries around the state have been stagnant and supported efforts to get the state to increase them. But he said it was not the county's place to use its own resources to make up for the state's shortfalls.

"It bothers me that the county is subsidizing a state-operated office," he said. "Where does it end?"

After the vote, former budget committee member Burr Allegaert asked the panel to reconsider.

"Over the six years I was on the budget committee, we were all disappointed that the state was not coming up with more money in compensation for the district attorneys," he said. "However, we didn't have the idea that just because we had a philosophical difference over the salary issue, that we would make such a draconian cut."

Marquis, who was re-elected last year to a fourth four-year term as district attorney, said he has no plans not to serve his complete term, but said the loss of his stipend amounts to a 15-percent pay cut that will mean "a significant lifestyle change for me."

The county first added a stipend - of $9,000 - to Marquis' state salary in his second year in office in 1995.

With the exception of the state's three smallest counties, district attorneys in Oregon counties with less than 100,000 population all make the same $79,512 state salary. Of those 24 counties, 12 provide a stipend that averages $14,321.

Statewide, district attorneys have only received cost-of-living adjustments to their state salaries, Marquis said. "In real dollars, I make the same as I did in 1994."

Without his stipend, Marquis said he will make less money than two of his deputy prosecutors.

Marquis said he doesn't believe Hazen's claim that the move isn't directed at him. "This is a way of expressing disrespect and contempt for me," he said.

Earlier this month, County Manager Derickson, at the request of budget committee member Dan Bartlett, drew up a memo with data on the salaries of district attorneys around the state and the pay for other Clatsop County officials, as well as past legal opinions from county counsel Heather Reynolds on the district attorney's duties.

Marquis handles the handful of mental commitment cases that come to the county each year, but it was never in exchange for his stipend, he said; he agreed to handle the cases when the county added another deputy prosecutor to his office several years ago.

It was the two new staff positions, not the stipend, that was expected to generate the most debate over the district attorney's budget Monday. Marquis and Derickson had each presented data giving different pictures of the workload of the district attorney's office.

Statistics presented by the county manager's office, which were originally requested by Hazen and Lee, appeared to show the caseload of the district attorney's office remaining constant over the past several years. Marquis argued Monday that those statistics, prepared by the state District Attorney Case Management, were flawed and didn't give an accurate picture of his office's true workload.

The two positions were added last year because of the increased work Marquis said his office would face with the addition of the third full-time circuit court, which opened early this year.

The budget committee added the two positions last year, but chose to fund them for one year only from the Special Projects Fund, which holds the county's share of state timber dollars. The committee's vote last year to add the positions came with the direction that the county look for more stable funding for the positions in future years.

The proposed 2007-08 budget included the two positions in the general fund. But Derickson added the warning that with operating costs climbing faster than revenue, coupled with a projected drop in timber revenue over the next few years, maintaining spending in the general fund at its current level could be difficult beyond 2009.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Why Criminal Defense Attorneys Hate Josh, Part IV

I seem to inspire special enmity among criminal defense lawyers. I take this as a compliment, as reflected in Parts I through III of Why Defense Attorneys Hate Josh. This latest edition was posted in a downtown Astoria coffee shop by Seaside defense attorney Ty Settles, who gets credit for identifying himself. Since I'm not Catholic and I have no aspirations to deity or even sainthood status, I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. But I am wearing a white hat. Like the thong (see Part I), if it was supposed to upset me, it didn't work. I think it's funny.



Part II
Part III

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why Jails work

There has been much discussion - too much behind closed doors - about issues surounding the jail and the "supervisory authority," the legal entity to whom defendants who are NOT sent to prison are remanded when one of our three judges says "I sentence you to XX days in the supervisory authority."

In Clatsop County the supervisory authority is jointly shared by the Sheriff and the Community Corrections (Probation) Department. This was a decision of the Board of County Commissioners about 10 years ago when Oregon law changed. The theory was that this would allow each county to craft its own program for inmates sentenced to a year or less.
Keep in mind that in Oregon 84% of all sentenced felons do NOT go to prison, thet are either in jail or on probation, in either event in the care of the "supervisory authority," and that about 75% of all convictions are for misdemeanors - crimes like DUII and Assault for which the maximum sentence is one year in jail or less.

The State of Oregon pays each county money based on a formula tied to the number of felony probationers. They also send the county a sizeable sum for those people sentenced to prison, but for terms of 12 months or less. As a result of this funding the county is reimbursed by the state only for felony cases. However the vast majority of crime and sentenced prisoners are not felons. When a Clatsop County hands down a "jail" sentence they are doing it because the judge beleives that is the most appropraite way to sanction misconduct, deter future bad behavior, and offer those criminals who want help a way out of the conduct that keeps landing them back in jail. During the recent campaign for Circuit Judge one - unsuccessful - candidate kept saying there were people in jail who shouldn't be there. I repeatedly asked him to name even one such inmate and he was unable to do so. The reason is that our judges are handing down sensible sentences restricted by the resources available and a complicated set of rules called sentencing guidelines.

The jail is capped, by order of the County Commission to prevent lawsuits from inmates at 60 beds. The county also rents ten beds from Tillamook County and there are up to 30 beds available at the Transition Center. The Transition Center was oriiginally supposed to be paid for by a state grant called a certificate of participation. As the years went by the cost went up and the county used Timber Revenues to build the existing center which also houses the office of Community Correction(Probation).
There are no bars or even locks on the doors because the Center was originally intended to ensure that it's "residents" could receive treatment through the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) The OHP would NOT pay for treatment if someone was in a secure lockdown. Unfortunately the state changed the rules and now severely limits who can be on OHP.

The Transition Center was designed to hold that class of inmates who needs more supervision that can be provided by a probation officer monitoring their job and house but not ones so dangerous that need to be locked up in a jail.

Keep in mind that while it has a large budget the budget for Community Corrections is ALL state money and since they get money only for felony offenders there is relatively little supervision of misdemeanor offenders.

But misdemeanors, DUII, most domestic assault make up the MAJORITY of convicted offenders.

There has been much chest pounding about the release of a man sentenced to 30 days for violating his probation for an original crime of Failing to Register as a Sex Offender.

But that release is small potatoes compared to what has been happening for the last several years. It is commonplace for a six-time DUII offender to get 6 months and serve a fraction of that or more regularly a felony offender who repeatedly violated probation so his probation is revoked and he is given 180 days (the maximum). All too often that person is released from jail because of overcrowding and IF he is on probation is on such a low level of supervision that for all intents and purposes he's walking free.

To blame the Sheriff is just pure politics. The system hasn't been working for years and a number of us who work in the system have been trying to get the people with the power to do something to pay attention to a broken process, and that doersn't mean which person is released on matrix.

If Judge Nelson's Drug Court works it is in large part because the drug offender in that program know that if they really screw up the Judge can send them to jail for a short stay (usually 2 to 5 days).

When a judge has a repeat wife beater in front of him or her and wants to make sure he goes to treatment and quits whaling on his spouse it is the THREAT of jail that often makes him comply.

As the District Attorney I don't get frequent flyer miles for the number of people in jail or prison. I have all the customers I need. In fact if I want more business then keep releasing these criminals early because they do re-offend, at an alarming rate.

So let's quit the useless posturing and finger pointing, suck it up and read some of those many studies the County has commissioned or the Clatsop County Grand Jury's investigation (available at the county website) and recognize that we need to do SOMETHING and soon.

Sheriff Bergin has offered a sensible way to use the existing jail, spend well less than $10 million. Time to get to work and stop the hand wringing!