Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Editorial by The Daily Astorian

All Astorians own this court
And we own its enabling of drunken driving.
editorial by The Daily Astorian

In movies about small town justice in the South, one clich├ęd element is the judge who also owns the insurance business or the saloon. The movie’s “aha” moment occurs when the defendant recognizes that the man whom he offended in the bar is now his judge, sitting in robes before him.

We have an element of that Southern movie plot in Astoria. It is the essence of why the Astoria Municipal Court has generated some pitiful adjudication of drunken driving cases over the decade this newspaper has been tracking such decisions. In a Jan. 20 editorial page column (“The rule of law in Astoria”) Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis isolated the malfunction that occurs when a criminal defense attorney plays the role of judge or prosecutor. Astoria Municipal Court has both those elements of role reversal going on every day it is in session.

Now City Hall has responded to Marquis’ column with an open letter from the Astoria City Council, which Chelsea Gorrow reported in Monday’s edition. None of the deliberation behind this letter occurred in open, public session. Mayor Willis Van Dusen’s dialogue with councillors occurred in e-mail, which the newspaper has obtained through a public records request.

Councillor Karen Mellin – whose candidacy in the November election opposed DUIIs being handled in Municipal Court – is now part of the team that wants to preserve DUII prosecution. Mellin’s price was acknowledgement that two cases “were not handled appropriately.”

The City Council’s open letter and the e-mails behind it are useful as a window into the Council’s group-think. But in its attempt to justify running a court that handles drunken driving cases, the Council – not surprisingly – leaves out a lot that has come to light in the past decade.

Our court has coughed up a number of jaw-droppers since the Stephen Moore case in 2002. That particular case was moved to Clatsop County Circuit Court only after The Daily Astorian published details of Moore’s adjudication and urged the city attorney to take action. There was the Sarah Leloff case in 2005 and a collection of David Lee Gonzalez cases spanning 2009-2010. You may read stories about these cases at www.dailyastorian.com/news/duii.

During this entire period, the City Council has not expressed the slightest doubt about the competency of the Municipal Court to adjudicate DUII cases. Nor did the Council pause when its Municipal Court judge, Kris Kaino, was cited by an Oregon State Police fish and game officer. That 2001 incident and Kaino’s intemperate response caused the officer to file an official complaint with the state Judicial Fitness Commission. The Oregon Supreme Court subsequently ruled that municipal judges are exempt from state judicial oversight, so the claim was dropped.

In essence, the Astoria City Council has looked the other way for 10 years. Recent history tells us that it is only a matter of time before the next DUII poster child arrives.

The proposal to move all Astoria drunken driving cases to Clatsop County Circuit Court is not rocket science. It is logical, and it would restore an element of judicial and prosecutorial credibility.

We do not expect the City Council to make that decision until it is mortally embarrassed or forced by a higher legal power. The mayor especially is determined to maintain this anachronism.

All Astorians own this court. We own its enabling of drunken driving. And we share in the likely prospect that one of the court’s “mistakes” will kill someone while at the wheel of their vehicle.

by The Daily Astorian
posted on The Daily Astorian website Tuesday, February 1, 2011, 10:45AM
click here for the Daily Astorian editorial page


  1. Josh, it has been reported that you said you will sue the City of Astoria to require it to send DUII cases through your office. If you actually said that, you need to do it. If you did not say that, you need to publically tell us that you did not the the Mayor is wrong. It is a matter of ethics and you are a public official.

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  3. My God, man, what are you thinking? Getting a state legislator to sponsor a bill that can eliminate up all municipal courts and takes away every county's ability to budget? Is your issue with the the Astoria city council and the Clatsop County commissioners really that important the the state legislature needs to spend time on it? Your efforts so far have been amusing and even supported, but you are getting silly. Too bad Debby Boone is getting silly too.

  4. This bill would NOT eliminate municipal courts at all.
    There are Muni courts in all the other cities in Clatsop County and they work just fine and have been sending DUIIS our way for many years.
    For hopefully the last time, taking these cases will cost the county NOTHING extra and despite what the City says, will SAVE them money.
    I'm a lawyer. That means I use the law to follow my oath - to protect the innocent and prosecute the guilty. I have been very clear with Mr. Van Dusen and the city attorney that the DA has the authority and if necessary I will go to court over this.
    If he wants to call it "getting sued," that's what I do almost every day in court. We have the COURTS decide matters of law.
    To be very clear, I hope, if the City persists in trying to deep six DUII cases I will indeed file whatever legal action is necessary.
    As several people have asked me "Why is the City fighting SO hard to keep DUIIs?"
    A very good question.

  5. Steve Forrester must really be happy that you created this win -win for him. Regardless of what is right, now whe Astoria City Council will not bend to your will simply because you are the one damanding. They will not bend to nasty editorials from Forrester because it is him demanding. So, Forrester can continue selling papers by bashing politicians, which everyone loves, and which makes him money. I do hope, however, you know what this is doing for you.

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