Astoria's culture of alcoholism nurtures our Municipal Court
by Steve Forrester
published Friday, February 11, 2011
‘She is adamantly opposed to any assistance'
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Nicole Pedersen, and I am the daughter of Janell Voeller. I'm contacting you in reference to her pending DUII cases.
It has come to my attention that Mr. Marquis is attempting to get her Municipal case tried in a court of record, and that her cases in particular may be of significant interest to the DA's office. I'm writing to inform you of the family's support.
My mother does this repeatedly, and has been an alcoholic for well over a decade. There is nothing we as a family have been able to do to curtail her drinking or get her in to a rehab facility. There was an intervention a few years back to no avail.
In short, I'm offering any assistance you deem appropriate. If there's any information I can provide you, I would be happy to do so. If/when it comes time for sentencing I would be pleased to address the judge and explain my concern for repeat offenses. Without treatment, she will certainly continue to offend, and the only way to get her into a rehabilitation program is by a court order. She is adamantly opposed to any assistance.
Further, I've heard that the second case, the County offense, may either fail or be thrown out due to some sort of sampling mistake. I don't know if it helps, but there is a credible witness to the exceptionally erratic driving on Highway 30 that night. An ambulance from Pacific County was travelling eastbound on Highway 30 while he witnessed the vehicle which was travelling westbound not only in the eastbound lane, but in the furthest eastbound lane (this occurred in the dual lane portion of the highway west of Koppisch road). The ambulance driver had to move his vehicle south of the fog line in order to avoid hitting it. He then met an officer on the road who did pull the vehicle over. If need be, I can provide you with the EMT's name. Again, I don't know if it's of value, but I would like to see her be held responsible for her actions, and prevent her from injuring anyone.
Thank you for your assistance,Nicole Pedersen
The extraordinary letter on this page, written by Nicole Pedersen, stems from this young woman's attempt to cope with an alcoholic mother who was Janell Voeller.
Pedersen sent this letter electronically to the Clatsop County District Attorney's general mailbox on Aug. 12, 2010. She authorized its publication.
Voeller's case was a poster child for what's wrong with the Astoria Municipal Court. The Voeller case stands next to those of Stephen Moore, Sara Leloff and David Lee Gonzalez. In all of those cases, Astoria's court was more inclined to dismiss defendants than it was determined to prosecute them vigorously - and in the case of Moore - to the letter of the law.
The Voeller case is especially significant, for two reasons. It is recent and it depicts a new city DUII prosecutor who has quickly adopted the culture of enabling that shows itself in the Municipal Court cases of Moore et al.
In November 2009, Voeller crashed her car. The arresting officer believed she was on some form of medication. Because the city rarely prosecuted DUII drug cases, the Astoria officer charged Voeller with the crime of reckless driving. She was fined $109, given no probation, treatment or follow up.
In July 2010, the Astoria Police Department arrested Voeller. She blew .10 on the breathalyzer. (the legal threshold for DUII is .08) She was released from jail, drove away and was arrested again for DUII by the Sheriff's Office at 12:30 a.m.
Seeing two DUII arrests on the same day for the same defendant, District Attorney Josh Marquis sought to join the cases. In response, City Prosecutor Mary Ann Murk responded with a refusal to cooperate. When Marquis subsequently wrote a longer request, Murk offered no response, but subsequently told the Astoria City Council Oct. 4 that, "I don't work for the D.A."
Hmmm. Does Murk not work for the rest of us - a citizenry that would like effective prosecution of DUII cases?
On Sept. 17, Voeller died in her living room as a result of a drug overdose and alcohol.
Alcoholism and drunken driving are linked in the concept of diversion, which is offered by the courts to first-time DUII offenders. It is an opportunity to recognize a problem and seek treatment. But when diversion became common throughout the nation, and when Mothers Against Drunk Driving caused states to stiffen their penalties for drunken driving, a defense lawyer in Florida developed a new set of tactics for other defense lawyers. In most American towns, there is a lawyer who specializes in DUII defense, and he works from that playbook.
In essence, the post-MADD defense against drunken driving involves having evidence suppressed and getting cases dismissed. Astoria's Municipal Court is essential to this strategy, for two reasons. It is a relative pushover for a skilled DUII defense lawyer, and it is not a court of record.
If a community wants a fair contest in the DUII cases that enter its courts, there must be prosecutors who can play at the same professional level as the defense specialist. You don't send a part-time batter to the plate against a Major League pitcher, but that effectively is what we do in Astoria Municipal Court. That inequity is further confused by having a judge who is also a criminal defense lawyer.
By assenting to this unfair fight, the Astoria City Council is enabling drunken driving. That may be seen in the Moore, Leloff and Gonzalez cases, and also in the Voeller case. To learn more about these cases see www.dailyastorian.com/news/duii.
An alcoholism treatment specialist would say that response to treatment or the shock of a DUII conviction is neither predictable nor consistent. In other words, some alcoholics take a while to get it. Some never get it. It was Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen's third DUII adjudication that convinced him to seek help at the Betty Ford Clinic. David Lee Gonzales, on the other hand, had 10 DUIIs under his belt when this newspaper discovered his three dismissals in Astoria Municipal Court.
Van Dusen is central to the Municipal Court discussion, because he is its most dogged defender. His journey to sobriety is at odds with his defense of this court which politely may be called flawed and more correctly called corrupt.
Astoria has a culture of alcoholism. That is where this history of lax prosecution came from. Isn't it time to end this deadly pathology of official enabling?
click here for the editorial at the Daily Astorian website