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.



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