Saturday, November 14, 2009

Doug Bates: The truth about tough-on-crime Josh Marquis

The truth about tough-on-crime Josh Marquis

By Doug Bates, The Oregonian

November 14, 2009, 10:37AM
The Oregonian
 Josh Marquis, Clatsop County district attorney

All three finalists for Oregon's U.S. attorney have impressive resum├ęs, and I'm sure that whoever among them is appointed by President Barack Obama will do an excellent job. [Marquis note: See 10/28/09 Main Justice article by Stephanie Woodrow.]

Personally, however, I'm pulling for Josh Marquis, the outspoken and sometimes controversial Clatsop County district attorney.

Let me confess right up front that I've never met the other two finalists who were recently named by a 13-member screening committee. They are Amanda Marshall, an Oregon Department of Justice attorney, and Kent Robinson, the acting U.S. attorney for Oregon. Both have strong credentials and both will be formidable competitors for the appointment against Marquis, in part because neither has been out there with him on the rough-and-tumble front lines of Oregon politics.

For Marquis, who has exceedingly strong credentials of his own, that creates a disadvantage. His long career as an elected DA and advocate for prosecutors has given him a reputation as a "law and order Democrat," something that's perversely resented by some on the political left. Now certain liberal bloggers in Oregon are suggesting that Marquis shouldn't get the appointment because he isn't "progressive enough" to be a good ideological fit with the Obama administration.

That's pretty silly. I've known Marquis and have worked with him off and on for nearly 30 years, since he was an exuberant young deputy DA in Lane County, and the man I know is a true-blue Oregon Democrat who happens to be tough as hell on crime.

Think of a John Kroger with a little less political cautiousness. Or maybe a lot less. Marquis' willingness to be out front on such prickly issues as mandatory sentencing has made him a bit of a lightning rod for some on Oregon's far left.

I haven't always agreed with his positions, but I know he isn't the reactionary some lefties think he is. Yes, he supports the death penalty but thinks it should be very rarely used – pretty much the same position as another progressive Democrat named Barack Obama.

At any rate, neither the death penalty nor mandatory sentencing has any significance in the federal appointment. U.S. attorneys don't make the decision to seek a death sentence, and federal sentencing guidelines, passed by Congress, make Oregon's sentencing laws look like marshmallow cookies.

Josh Marquis, a Democrat In Name Only? If he is indeed a DINO, it's interesting that he was among only four DAs in Oregon who endorsed Jeff Merkley for the Senate.

OK, I'll admit a bias here. Among prosecutors in Oregon, Marquis possesses an unusual openness to the media. It probably has something to do with his heavy journalism course work as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon. He understands the profession and genuinely likes talking with reporters -- to the extent that some accuse him of an excessive fondness for seeing his name in the paper. (News flash: Hey, he's an elected official, for crying out loud.) He's also an excellent and prolific writer, someone who would have made a good newspaper journalist if he hadn't gone off to law school instead.

Too conservative for Oregon's blue crew? That's silly, too. He's in the news all the time as a tough-on-crime prosecutor, but few people know anything about his personal commitment to civil rights, social justice, clean government and the environment.

Five years ago Marquis ticked off the Bush administration with an op-ed piece chiding the Bushies for obsessing over marijuana when meth was a much bigger problem. Last year he wrote that it was wrong to consider death sentences for people tried in Guantanamo. And as a member of the board of directors of the National District Attorneys Association, he proposed, wrote and got passed an endorsement of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, pointing out that she had been a working deputy DA in New York City.

As I said, I've never met Amanda Marshall or Kent Robinson. I'm sure both are also terrific candidates for Oregon's U.S. attorney. When the Obama administration considers the three finalists, however, I just hope Josh Marquis' candidacy is not hurt by false perceptions that he isn't a sufficiently progressive Oregon Democrat -- not that this should be a prerequisite anyway.

You can call me a DINO, if you want. (I've had my home broken into, and I kind of like it when DAs are tough on bad guys, myself.) But don't lay that not-blue-enough rap on Marquis, because it's unfair and untrue.

– Doug Bates
© 2009 All rights reserved.

Vanderbilt Law School debate

On my way home last week from my first meeting as a member of the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section, I stopped off at Vanderbilt Law School. Students there had invited me to an "Oxford-style" debate in which the audience "votes" on who "won" the argument by walking out a particular door.

Over the last ten years I have been asked many times to speak about issues surrounding capital punishment. Part of the reason is that I was once a journalist and I enjoy writing, and as a litigator I enjoy a good debate. All too often my willingness to talk and debate is misinterpreted as excessive zeal for the death penalty. The truth is I think capital punishment should rarely be used and that
we -- defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, everyone in criminal justice -- can do better. Justice is a work in progress.
Above all else I value civility in discussion of such important and often emotional issues, and have been fortunate to have been matched up (almost always) with opponents of capital punishment whom I greatly respect and with whom I've found much common ground. That was certainly true of Prof. Ken Haas, my eloquent and personable debate opponent from the University of Delaware.
Vanderbilt posted the debate online at YouTube, if you want to know from the horse's mouth why I support capital punishment: