Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Astoria rejects DUII cases takeover

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The Daily Astorian

District Attorney complains about "choreographed attack"
Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants cases will stay in Astoria Municipal Court.

That decision was made at Monday night's City Council meeting. Members unanimously passed a lengthy resolution indicating there had been no persuasive evidence that the cases handled in circuit court would result in a higher prosecution rate or greater justice.

District Attorney Josh Marquis was in attendance and disagreed.

"Ms. (Arline) LaMear was quoted at the (American Association of University Women) AAUW forum as saying she was very disappointed. I am, too," Marquis said. "I came two weeks ago hoping for a conversation. We did not have a conversation. We had a choreographed attack on some information that I had hoped would be helpful."

Mayor Willis Van Dusen said the City Council owed Marquis an answer to the question posed by his report, which sought to move DUII cases to circuit court. He said the City Council members also owed the citizens of Astoria a reason for their answer.

"We went through the district attorney's report and there were just a number or errors," Van Dusen said afterward. "There's always a silver lining to a report like this. It forced us as a City Council and city staff to scrub municipal court and just scour it and see if there are any problems."

In all of the evidence brought forth by the report, Van Dusen added, only two cases in nine years had been mishandled. And although it may be uncomfortable to do business such as this in a public setting, that is the way the City Council handles business. Van Dusen said they will move on from here.

Councilor Blair Henningsgaard, who is an attorney, weighed in during the meeting.

"Personally, I've said many times that I don't particularly care where these cases are prosecuted. My interest is in doing what's best for the city and for the citizens," said Henningsgaard. "Mr. Marquis' report and the evidence that we have heard indicates to me that the DUIIs are being handled as well in municipal court as they are in circuit court ... It doesn't make any sense whatsoever to move them."

LaMear, who was in favor of moving the court cases before the presentation was given earlier this month,. echoed those remarks.

"What we were given was so full of holes that we couldn't gather any real information, and the statistics were not correct when you looked at the whole thing because cases that were used to put those statistics together were incorrect," she said.

Marquis admitted the report had "definitely some errors," but said no matter if his law student intern who put the report together had spent the entire summer on the report or if Marquis had put the report together himself, City Prosecutor Mary Ann Murk and Judge Kris Kaino would still have found mistakes.

Afterward, Marquis added to his argument. "People have asked me if I thought providing a perfect report would have made a difference. And the answer is no," Marquis said. Another issue about the perception of justice is that the judge and the public defender are criminal defense attorneys when they are not in municipal court and are paid to defend people, like drunk drivers, he said.

Marquis said he has no intention of presenting the information to the City Council again.

"That would just be a waste of everybody's time," he said. "It will have to be resolved in another venue in court sometime in the future."

During the meeting, he did, however, ask the City Council to consider its language more carefully in the resolution before it was passed. It states, "Cases the district attorney felt demonstrated misconduct or malfeasance in the municipal court..."

"Mayor Van Dusen, if I thought it was malfeasance or misconduct, I wouldn't be appearing in front of you for a conversation. I'd be presenting it to a grand jury or asking the Attorney General or someone else to investigate it," Marquis said.

Henningsgaard read the definition of those two words to the City Council and all agreed they were appropriate words.

Minor language differences aside, Marquis made clear his thoughts on the municipal court system's handling of the DUII cases and asked the council to consider what they were doing and why.

"I'm offering to dig you a ditch for free and the question is, why are you refusing?" he said. "I would never have come before the City Council and offered to take on these cases if I thought they would be an undue burden on my office or create more taxpayer expense, or that they would do an undo burden on a very hardworking staff of the circuit court. Again, I just ask you to consider why I would be making this request."

Marquis, still upset about the decision this morning, said he has no motivation - higher wages, higher office, more staffing or otherwise - to do this other than to save lives.

"I do not have a personal vendetta. My only personal vendetta is against drunk driving," he said. "I am passionate about this because people are dying because they don't get help, and that is why I feel so strongly about it. I'm disappointed that they had the meeting with no notice and asked for zero public comment and I have to ask why on earth they are fighting this so hard if it doesn't matter, as Blair said, where these are handled? What are they so afraid of?"

In other news Monday night:

• Recology, the San Francisco-based company taking over Western Oregon Waste, gave a presentation seeking approval for serving the city. Van Dusen and Henningsgaard will be visiting the San Fransisco office in November. The City Council did not make a decision.

• City staff are in the process of securing FEMA funding to relocate the Bond Street water main, damaged by the 2007 landslide.

• Columbia River Maritime Museum Executive Director Sam Johnson recounted the excitement of placing the Peacock outside of the museum last week, also adding a surprise announcement" Jim Campbell, who towed the Peacock into place, told Johnson that he would be doing it for free. Campbell Crane, whose crane was involved in an accident near John Day, offered to charge only for labor.

• The city of Astoria is looking to hire a full-time building official and code enforcement officer. The officer would handle code enforcement for buildings and businesses as well as handle parking control.

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