Friday, September 18, 2009

An Interesting Week

On Saturday the Clatsop County Democrats held their annual picnic at Cullaby Lake, in Gearhart. Larry Taylor, the CCDCC chair, emceed the event with his usual aplomb. Lots of Democrats came to meet and greet. Special guests: Bill Bradbury, who officially announced today he'll run for governor in 2010; Peter Huhtala, challenging Brad Witt for State Rep; Rep. Brad Witt; Sen. Debbie Boone; and our indomitable Sen. Betsy Johnson. Word on the street is Betsy will soon be named co-chair of the powerful Joint Ways and Means Committee.

Attorney General John Kroger was the Keynote Speaker and was as dynamic as ever. After meeting John in 2007 I knew that he would be a great choice for A.G., and he has been. He takes no prisoners on environmental protection, civil rights, corruption investigations and consumer fraud -- the latter an area that means a lot to me because I started in the prosecution biz as a consumer fraud investigators in the mid-70s in the DA's Office in Eugene. (See the Eugene Register-Guard, August 24, 1977.)

One of the things John talked about at the picnic was the need for more treatment for people with addiction problems. I've been a long-time advocate of spending more money for intensive programs, including in-patient treatment, and also for drug treatment in our jails and prisons. During the Meth Summit (final report here, a .pdf), it was striking how many recovering addicts thanked Sheriff Tom Bergin for locking them up long enough to get sober. Jail can't be used primarily as a detox facility but for many addicts it's the only way they can get clean long enough to get motivated to get involved in treatment.

I recently attended the opening of the expansion of Astoria Pointe, the first in-patient residential substance abuse facility in Clatsop County since Serenity by the Sea went out of business a few years ago. Astoria Pointe recently bought the Rosebriar Hotel and have converted it into a treatment facility specifically for women. The owners of Astoria Pointe have very generously consistently donated one bed for local residents who could not otherwise afford the 30- to 90-day treatment program. I've worked with our judges to use that bed as an alternative to longer term incarceration, and it is standard practice for my office to agree to "day for day" credit for time spent in any certified in-patient facility. We are always looking for thoughtful, responsible ways to reduce our customer base.

Last night I had a great time at the University of Oregon's White Stag Center, on Couch Street in Portland, debating George Washington University Professor Paul Butler, who was promoting his new book Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice. The discussion was sponsored by the American Constitution Society, a progressive alternative to the more conservative Federalist Society. I made the point that we in Oregon have been ahead of the country in many ways, including, for example, by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana; that more than 75% of felons in Oregon don't go to prison; and that, of the 25% of felons in prison, more than 70% are there for violent felonies and only 9% for drug offenses, with virtually all those for dealing, not using.

Professor Butler has some very controversial ideas, like advocating jurors should refuse to vote guilty on what he calls "non-violent" crimes even if they believe that the prosecution proved its case. I have a hard time calling Felony DUII or selling Meth a "non violent" crime, there's a reason we are, as John Adams wrote, "a nation of laws and not of men." We don't and can't allow the whims of the one -0 be that a juror, judge or DA -- to over-rule the law. I have confidence in juries and we need to make sure they get as much truthful evidence as possible.

I've added the video of the great Chris Rock bit, "How Not To Get An Ass-Whipping," to the sidebar here. It's great advice that humorously reinforces messages of personal responsibility and keeping your act together.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

As Chris Rock Says: "O-bey the Law!"

Back in the spring of 2006 some Clatsop County residents who were driving around the area where Highway 26 leaves Highway 101 to head back to Portland noticed that a number of horses at a place called "Small World Farm," just off Highway 101, looked seriously undernourished and generally miserable. The Seaside Police Department sent two officers, one of whom had been a rodeo rider and knew something about horses. He ended up calling the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office and an investigation resulted in the farm's owner, William Maxwell, getting charged with several counts of Animal Neglect.

In the fall of 2007 Mr. Maxwell's case went to trial, represented by Portland lawyer Geordie Duckler (who bills himself as "The Animal Law Practice"). The prosecution had as witnesses a number of local women I called "the angels." These women were just local residents who knew something about horses, and each took one or more of the horses in the worst shape and nursed them back to health.

The main witness for the prosecution was Dr. Jack Giesy, a veterinarian from Vancouver, Washington. Dr. Giesey is well north of 60 years of age and still practices large animal veterinary medicine. He's so beloved that the horse arena at the Clark County (WA) Fairgrounds is named after him. Dr. Giesey looked at the picture of one horse, named Goliath (pictured below in a story from the Seaside Signal), and literally broke into tears.


Photo courtesy of the Seaside Police Department. When Goliath was seized from the Small World Farm south of Seaside on April 4, 2006, he weighed 857 pounds. After being placed in foster care, the horse’s weight was recorded at 1,325 on Aug. 21, 2006 (shown).

After three days of testimony things looked so bleak for Mr. Maxwell that his lawyer asked for the plea deal I'd offered Mr. Maxwell's son. The answer was . . . "NO." He had to plead guilty, forfeit the horses to the nice women who had nursed them back to health, and pay the women (although none of them ever asked) about $15,000 in restitution. I didn't ask for jail time because I wanted him to pay the money and "O-bey the Law!" (Scroll to the end for the video from Chris Rock's website.) (Here's the full story about the horses and their angels, from the Seaside Signal.)

A few months later my office received a police report that Mr. Maxwell had slugged an arborist he'd contracted after what some call the December "Gale of '07" blew down lots of stuff. The case was postponed six times. By the latest trial date, in August 2009, the victim was broke and couldn't make it to court. Trying assault cases without the victim is dicey at best, more so in this case because the victim refused initial medical help even though he'd been sucker-punched.

So . . . back to trial with Mr. Maxwell in front of another Clatsop County jury, who heard nothing about his previous mis-deeds. Mr. Maxwell took the stand and claimed that he'd been trained as a security agent for Macy's, and that all he was trying to do was stop the arborist from leaving the bank with a check from the insurance company that was made out to both of them. I asked Mr. Maxwell if Macy's instructed him to slug people in the face as a way of detaining shoplifters. He allowed as how they didn't.

The jury, headed up by a United Airlines pilot who lives in Astoria, convicted Mr. Maxwell of Assault in the Fourth Degree, and this time he went to jail . . . on his birthday.

Judge rejects story, sends Maxwell directly to jail
‘He thinks the rules don’t apply to him,’ says DA
The Daily Astorian
Thursday, August 27, 2009

Despite his request for leniency during a sentencing hearing Tuesday, a Seaside man found guilty during a jury trial last week of fourth-degree assault is spending his 53rd birthday in the Clatsop County Jail.

"I don't believe your version of events," Judge Paula Brownhill told William Seth Maxwell, before sending him directly to jail to serve a 20-day sentence for the assault charge, with credit for time served. "Your behavior was not that of an upstanding citizen." He was also sentenced to 24 months of probation and must pay a $40 monthly monitoring fee, obey all laws and pay a $567 unitary assessment.

Tuesday's sentence stems from an incident in March 2008 at the Wells Fargo Bank branch inside the Seaside Safeway store. That's when Maxwell punched itinerant arborist Chris Wallace and knocked him to the floor during a dispute over a check from an insurance company for damage that happened during the big 2007 winter storm. Wallace had done some storm cleanup work for Maxwell and was supposed to get $3,000 of the $4,100 insurance check.

"He just intentionally clocked Mr. Wallace," District Attorney Josh Marquis told the court. "It's what people do when they have no control over their anger." The entire incident was recorded by the bank's surveillance camera and observed by witnesses including the bank manager.

Marquis said Wallace, who was not present for the trial or the sentencing, did not want medical treatment and the prosecution was not asking for restitution, just jail time. "The defendant acted like a thug. We believe he should receive a jail sentence of 30 to 60 days," Marquis continued, adding that Maxwell should also receive anger management counseling.

"Obviously I made a mistake in my relationship with Mr. Wallace," Maxwell told Judge Brownhill. He also described himself as an outstanding citizen, who started a water polo team and is active in the PTO, a parent-teacher organization.

Maxwell said he was fearful during the encounter at the bank because Wallace had a knife and had pushed him and knocked his wife down. But Brownhill said the surveillance video showed otherwise and there was no way Maxwell could have seen a knife.

Defense attorney Don Haller argued that Wallace was an "extremely difficult contractor," whom Maxwell had been dealing with for several months. Haller also said Wallace was wanted on warrants in Washington and Oregon.

"So Mr. Wallace deserved it?" Brownhill asked Haller.

Haller said no, but he asserted that the victim had helped create the situation that led to the incident. And Haller said Maxwell was not a thug, but was in desperate financial straits and unable to find employment. "The man made a mistake - it was a momentary mistake," Haller said.

Maxwell's money troubles stem from his October 2007 conviction for animal neglect at his Small World Farm in Seaside. His herd of nine horses had been seized in 2006 by Seaside police officers, the county sheriff, the county posse and volunteers.

During that trial, Maxwell had pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree animal neglect for failing to provide minimal care for his horse, Goliath, and one count of second-degree animal neglect of a mare named QT. He gave up ownership of the horses.

In January 2008, Maxwell was sentenced to 48 months probation, but did not receive jail time. He was also ordered to pay $14,800 in restitution to the group of women who volunteered to take in the neglected horses and nurse them back to health.

But Marquis said in court Tuesday that Maxwell has not made any restitution payments since October 2008. That violated the terms of his probation, and as a result, Marquis has filed a "show cause" amendment. A hearing is set for Tuesday.

"Maxwell just doesn't get it," Marquis said after the sentencing hearing Tuesday. "He thinks he's a middle-class citizen and the rules don't apply to him."