Friday, January 5, 2018

Thanks for all the fish

Guest  Column
By Joshua Marquis
Published on January 5, 2018 8:42AM

In 1994 I was appointed by Oregon’s first woman governor, Barbara Roberts, to complete the term of a disgraced, disbarred and convicted Clatsop County district attorney. I’ve had the honor since then to be elected six consecutive times. After 25 years as chief prosecutor, I’ve decided not to stand for what would be my seventh full term. Jan. 7, 2019, will be my last day as your district attorney.

This decision wasn’t easy to make. I love the job. I work with a truly outstanding staff of lawyers, paralegals and victims’ advocates, all recognized throughout the state for their skills and experience. Office manager Lori Johnson has worked in the district attorney’s office even longer than I have. Fortunately, Lori is much younger than I am, as she is irreplaceable for the proper functioning of the office. Two of my former chief deputies now serve as judges on the Circuit Court bench — Cindee Matyas and Dawn McIntosh. In 2017, deputy David Goldthorpe left the office after being appointed district attorney of Malheur County.

Given over a dozen county managers and likely twice that number of county commissioners, at times my relationship with management has been … interesting. I’ve not always received the budgets I’ve requested, but I’ve always received the funding I needed to ensure I could attract good people to an office that is adequately staffed and appropriately compensated, in a renovated historic courthouse, in a stellar natural setting. I thank you all.

I’ve met hundreds, perhaps thousands, of victims and witnesses and their families. Many have humbled me with their grace and eloquence, often in the face of horrific crimes. Even the so-called “nonviolent” crimes, like those involving fraud and drugs, can have enormous impacts that do great and lasting harm. It seems criminal to me that the term “criminal justice reform” has twisted so that it now means reducing jail and prison sentences, rather than truth in sentencing and the rights of victims. I have been and will remain a strong advocate for those and other true reforms.

I’ll continue also to advocate for laws against animal cruelty, for enforcement of driving while impaired laws, for reasonable and responsible funding for prosecutors and law enforcement. I’ll continue to expose the rampant and epidemic lies told by various media outlets, criminal defense organizations and billionaire philanthropist George Soros about prosecutorial misconduct. For most of us who prosecute for a career — not as a step to six- and seven-figure incomes defending white-collar defendants — the worst possible trial outcome is not an acquittal. Any of us worth our salt have lost cases where the defendant was clearly guilty. No, the worst nightmare of any prosecutor is convicting someone who is innocent of that offense. Those of us who are seen as cutting corners to win usually find ourselves unemployed, as we should.

The office of district attorney offers a morally luxurious job. I answer to my conscience and the voters. My sole allegiance is not to a paying client, but to the truth. What I hope to be remembered for most is my zealous advocacy for victims and for an office that serves the county without, as early American oaths often required, “fear or favor or hope of reward.” My office has never prosecuted anyone because of a personal beef, or not prosecuted because of a personal relationship. Police officers, government officials, locally prominent citizens, neighbors, have all been through the system. We are, as John Adams said, a nation of laws, not of men.

So, what next? I expect I’ll be far less cautious and guarded in my public comments on criminal justice than I have been while in office. I enjoy speaking to groups at universities and associations around the country. I particularly enjoy research and writing. I’m active on the board of directors of the National District Attorneys Association, and will continue crafting policy there. I hope to continue for another 24 summers my occasional three-line role as the cowardly sheriff in “Shanghaied in Astoria,” and go into a third decade with a jazz show as the DA DJ on KMUN.

Until then, until Jan. 8, 2019, I’ll do the job the voters have asked me to do.

For the first several years as DA, I tried all the murder cases alone. I came to realize that including a deputy not only helped me and gave them experience, but I enjoyed mentoring. As my office grew from seven employees in 1994 to 20 today, more and more of the job has become administrative. Those 20 women and men do 95 percent of the daily work in the office, and will continue to do so well after I’m gone.

Ron Brown has been chief deputy since 2004. He’s developed a particularly strong skill for prosecuting sexual assault cases, sadly much more common than you might think. He has deep compassion for victims. He has the respect and admiration of the office because of his toughness at trial and his deep commitment to victims. Ron will be filing for the post as my successor, and will be on the ballot in May. I urge you to support him.

Many people showed me great kindness when I moved here as a largely unknown quantity. The late Hal Snow and his wife and partner, Jeanyse. Then vice chair of the County Commission, Don Haskell, and his wife, Carol. Steve Forrester, then the editor and publisher of The Daily Astorian. The late Randy Bowe, and Debra Bowe, who found me a literal home and threw my first welcoming party. Judy Niland and friends at the Astor Street Opry Company. Former KMUN station manager Doug Sweet.

I owe a special thanks to my greatest political ally, a force majeure, state Sen. Betsy Johnson, Oregon’s best friend of public safety.

Cindy Price and I have made Astoria our home for 23 years. I’ve no intention of retiring elsewhere. Cindy wouldn’t leave Astoria even if I did have such ideas, so that’s that. I’ll still be meeting you at the post office, at the grocery store, at the butcher shop, at the restaurants.

Despite the Douglas Adams reference in the title, I’m not leaving the planet, just the job I have loved. It is the greatest privilege in my life to stand in the well of the courtroom and represent the people of Oregon.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me the pleasures of this fascinating job.

Read the column on the Daily Astorian website.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Leaving the fair

A fair story about my chance to explain why - as Joan Didion would say - it’s time to “leave the fair.” In January 2019 I will be leaving the job I’ve loved the most, representing the People of the State of Oregon from the well of the courtroom.  Following the story is the Daily Astorian's editorial.

Clatsop County District Attorney Marquis
will not seek re-election
Veteran prosecutor will leave office after nearly 25 years
By Jack Heffernan The Daily Astorian
Published on January 4, 2018 12:01AM
Last changed on January 4, 2018 10:40AM

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, a local prosecutor who built a national reputation as an advocate for the death penalty, truth in sentencing and crime victims’ rights, will not run for re-election.

The courtroom veteran informed his staff on Wednesday he will retire when his four-year term ends in January 2019, nearly 25 years after his appointment to restore an office tainted by corruption.

“A graceful exit is as important as a graceful entrance,” Marquis said. “I’ve sort of been thinking about this for a year or two or maybe longer.”

Voluble and combative, Marquis was elected six times since Gov. Barbara Roberts appointed him in 1994.

Marquis, 65, remembered the unusual circumstances that brought him to Astoria in the first place. His predecessor, Julie Leonhardt, was recalled and convicted of framing two police officers for drugs in an attempt to clear her fiancée of criminal charges.

A chief deputy in Deschutes County before Leonhardt was removed, Marquis drove to and from the North Coast for six weekends in anticipation that he might get the job.

“I didn’t know if it was the kind of place I would like, and I wanted to talk to people,” he said.

Marquis’ first election — his only contested one — came just two months after being sworn in.

“It was a very odd way to enter elected office,” he said. “That was very challenging.”

Colin  Murphey / The Daily Astorian
Top prosecutor

As the county’s top prosecutor, Marquis handled many of the most high-profile trials over the past few decades. But he also delegated cases to deputies such as Dawn McIntosh — now a Circuit Court judge — and Chief Deputy District Attorney Ron Brown.

Brown is expected to run for district attorney in the May election.

“As much as I enjoyed it, I was never going to give others in my office the chance to learn how to do it and, frankly, two brains are better than one,” Marquis said. “Part of that, I think, is just growing up as a manager, particularly of a DA’s office.”

He most clearly recalled the cases over his career where he developed a relationship with the victim’s family.

The most recent example came in the case of Jessica Smith, a Washington state woman who was sentenced in 2016 to life in prison for drowning her infant daughter and attempting to kill her teenage daughter at a Cannon Beach hotel.

Marquis was giving a lecture to law students in Chicago in 2014 when he received the call about the case. He hurried home and spent the next few days in Cannon Beach as authorities searched for Smith. Over the course of the two-year case, he developed relationships with the daughter who survived the attack as well as the father, he said.

Vocal district attorney

Marquis, who describes himself as a centrist Democrat, has cultivated a reputation as one of the most vocal district attorneys in Oregon and across the country.

He has been a leader in prosecuting animal abuse and elder abuse crimes. He has spoken out against marijuana legalization and the reclassification of heroin and methamphetamine possession from felonies to misdemeanors. He has advocated for truth in sentencing and the death penalty. He has also been among the biggest skeptics of reform initiatives intended to reduce prison use for drug and property crimes.

Colin Murphey / The Daily Astorian
His columns have been published in newspapers from The Daily Astorian and The Oregonian to The New York Times, and he has made a host of national television appearances. A frequent voice on criminal justice issues at the state Capitol in Salem, Marquis has also testified before Congress five times.

“I’ve seen Josh on just about everything,” Brown said. “He’s been on Court TV and you name it. He enjoys that kind of thing.”

David Rogers, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, has challenged Marquis on a number of issues. But his ability to convey his viewpoints is not one of them.

“Mr. Marquis likes attention and puts himself out there,” Rogers said. “There’s probably much more knowledge of where he stands than of other district attorneys in the state.”

Marquis, a former journalist, shrugs off the suggestion that he courts publicity.

“The thrill of being in The New York Times sort of wore off about 10 years ago,” he said.

Marquis said the only higher office he’s considered was U.S. attorney in Oregon. After campaigning for Barack Obama for president in 2008, he was a finalist for the job but eventually passed over, he said.

“In reflection, I’m probably glad I didn’t get it. You don’t have as much autonomy as I do as district attorney,” Marquis said. “I’ve never sought any other political office and, frankly, being the DA is a terrible way to do it. You piss off too many people either by prosecuting them or not prosecuting them.”

Local duels

Marquis has long supported a new county jail and fought to move drunken-driving cases from Astoria Municipal Court to Circuit Court.

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners briefly revoked his stipend in 2007 before it was reinstated, a move that Marquis maintains was a political jab.

“I’m sure people feel like it’s playing whack-a-mole to shut me up sometimes. I was annoying.” Marquis said. “I have never withdrawn from public debate out of concern that this is going to bite me in my political ambitions, and I’m sure I’ve paid a price for it as a result.”

Most recently, he has battled the ACLU, which raises a stern eyebrow to what it views as Marquis’ tough-on-crime policies. The organization also launched a campaign last year to inform voters about district attorneys in the hopes that it will lead to criminal justice reform. Marquis has criticized the campaign, saying it has been led by out-of-state interests.

As a core example of what it says is a lack of accountability among district attorneys, the ACLU has pointed to a number of top prosecutors in the state, like Marquis, who often run unopposed. Marquis said, though, that the campaign did not influence his decision not to seek re-election.

“If it was up to that, I’d run again just to prove to them that I can get elected for a seventh term,” Marquis said.

Rogers doesn’t doubt that.

“Josh Marquis is a strong-minded person,” Rogers said. “It would be great if we had that ability and power with him, but he seems stuck in his ways.”

Rogers points to that tendency as a possible reason why opponents have rarely challenged Marquis around election season.

“He certainly doesn’t hesitate to show harsh words with those he’s disagreed with. People may not be willing to get involved with that.” Rogers said. “Voters in Clatsop County haven’t had much of a choice.”


Marquis credits his upbringing for his ability to juggle multiple things at once.

His mother came from a Mormon family, and his great-grandfather was a polygamist. His father was a refugee from Nazi Germany. They did not have a television in the house until he was 17 years old, forcing him to read books night and day.

“I was very fortunate who my parents were,” Marquis said.

The curiosity from reading led him to pursue a career in journalism in college. Even after attending law school, he spent time in the early 1980s both as a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal — a legal newspaper — and as a speechwriter for then-California Attorney General John Van de Kamp. “I really thought I was going to be a journalist when I was an undergraduate,” Marquis said. “Most of my friends were journalists, most of the women I was dating were reporters until, in fact, I married Cindy in 1995.”

His wife, Cindy Price, serves on the Astoria City Council.

Journalism offered Marquis a glimpse into a number of realms, including district attorneys’ offices.

“I just found what they did in the DA’s office absolutely fascinating,” Marquis said. “My time as a reporter made me learn that if I wanted to defend the poor and the helpless and the vulnerable, it wasn’t going to be as a defense attorney. It was going to be as a prosecutor.”

Marquis does not plan to run for political office, he said. He also vowed not to try to run the district attorney’s office from the outside.

“If they want my counsel, they’ll ask for it,” he said. “I don’t plan on thinking that I can continue running or influencing that office any more than any other citizen.”

But don’t expect him to back away from public debate. In retirement, he will have more time to read, to write and to talk. He will also have more freedom to express his opinions.

“I intend to be more outspoken — not to be the shy, soft-spoken, cautious individual I’ve been for the last 24 years,” Marquis said.

He was only half-joking.

Read the story on the Daily Astorian website.

Our view: Marquis leaves a legacy of competence
as district attorney
The prosecutor also pioneered on animal abuse and elder abuse
Published on January 4, 2018 8:58AM

Josh Marquis has been Clatsop County district attorney so long that few of us remember what brought him to office. It was the utterly disastrous, brief career of Julie Leonhardt that opened the way for Gov. Barbara Roberts to appoint Marquis.

The short version of the Leonhardt fiasco was that she was indicted and convicted of lying to a grand jury. She was recalled from office, convicted and disbarred.

Marquis, who announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election, brought competence to the job. He was experienced at prosecuting murders. His instinct about animal abuse was humane and wise. He broke ground in prosecuting elder abuse.

This newspaper has appreciated Marquis because of his openness. He has been eager to explain aspects of criminal justice and accessible to our reporters. Grasping those sometime arcane elements is essential to writing about the criminal courts.

This county has witnessed some seven murders during Marquis’ tenure. His office handled them competently. And if we did not appreciate that, we only had to look across the Columbia River into Pacific County, Washington, where a weak prosecutor, David Burke, dropped the ball.

For years and for very good reason, Marquis argued against prosecuting drunken-driving cases in Astoria Municipal Court. Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen and his City Council allies protected that flawed system. Once Van Dusen was out of office, the new mayor and council moved the city’s drunken-driving cases to Circuit Court.

The case of an animal collector, Vikki Kittles, who arrived with a school bus full of cats, prompted Marquis to make animal abuse a state legislative issue.

When the late Hal Snow brought Marquis evidence of an elder abuse case out of Warrenton, the DA seized the moment. The testimony of accountant Jim Lanzarotta was a critical element in the prosecution. It was a complicated case, and the prosecution prevailed. Meanwhile, elder abuse unfortunately has become predictable in our local culture, as it has nationally.

The good news in Marquis’ retirement is that competent candidates will emerge. After 24 years of having a well-run district attorney’s office, the voters expect it. And that is Marquis’ best legacy.

Read the editorial on the Daily Astorian website.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

PBS Newshour on felony conviction rates

I was asked to comment about why, with the incidence of some violent crimes decreasing, there is an increase in felonies. Maybe because we take some crimes, like domestic violence, more seriously? [This story was produced by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, and broadcast on the PBS Newshour on January 2, 2018. You can view the original report on the Stateline website.] 
When crime is a major concern in a community, elected district attorneys are especially sensitive to public pressure to file more felony charges, Marquis said. 
“We are not rewarded for the number of felonies filed,” Marquis said. “But we do face election and accountability to our neighbors who are also our bosses.”
Felony conviction rates are up nationwide. These states are reconsidering how they classify crimes.
Tim Henderson, Stateline
January 2, 2018

In recent decades, every state has seen a dramatic increase in the share of its population convicted of a felony, leaving more people facing hurdles in finding a job and a place to live and prompting some states to revisit how they classify crimes.

In Georgia, 15 percent of the adult population was a felon in 2010, up from around 4 percent in 1980. The rate was above 10 percent in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas.

Less than 5 percent of the population in Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Utah and West Virginia were felons, but every state had a large increase between 1980 and 2010, when the felony population ranged from 1 to 5 percent, according to a University of Georgia study published in October.

The new estimates only go through 2010, before many states began to reclassify some crimes, scale back sentencing and take other steps to lower incarceration rates and ease ex-offenders back into society. But they are the first attempt to gauge the state-by-state buildup of felons during a nationwide, decades-long surge in punishment: Less than 2 million people were in prison or jail or on parole or probation in 1980, compared with more than 7 million in 2007.

John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University, called the study “incredibly important,” but noted that with many gaps in information provided by states, further study may be needed to ensure an accurate picture. Nonetheless, he said, some of the state differences make intuitive sense.

“Georgia has been trying to get people out of prison with probation, but we’re seeing that even with probation they’re still getting that record,” Pfaff said. It’s possible that in states with relatively small black populations like West Virginia and New Hampshire, “without that racial divide between a white correctional system and a poor black population, it may be no coincidence that there’s a lower felony rate,” he said.

Proponents of more lenient sentencing tend to focus on imprisonment, where Louisiana and Oklahoma have the highest rates, but probation is more common.

There were 1.9 million people on felony probation in 2015, compared to 1.5 million in prison. In 2010, the two figures were about the same, at 1.6 million, according to the latest federal statistics.

Many view probation as a more humane alternative to imprisonment, said Michelle Phelps, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. But in some states probation has become a “net widener” that draws more nonviolent criminals into the stigma and harsh supervision of a felony conviction.

Phelps pointed to Minnesota, which has one of the lowest rates of imprisonment, but ranked 16th for felon population in 2010. That year felons were about 9 percent of Minnesota’s population, or nearly quadruple the rate in 1980.

“Though it’s frequently dismissed as a slap on the wrist, probation can entail onerous requirements,” Phelps said. For instance, probation can require a job and good housing as a condition for staying out of prison, but the felony conviction itself can make it hard or impossible to get that job.

Gary Mohr, who heads Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said a felony conviction can have lifelong consequences, no matter whether the punishment is imprisonment or probation.

“Even probation or a six-month sentence is really a life sentence because it affects jobs, it affects housing, it affects everything in their lives,” Mohr said.

Easing the Path

Several states have moved in recent years to ease the path for convicted felons, including restoring voting rights and prohibiting employers from asking job applicants if they have a criminal record.

Even some red-state conservatives support moves to erase the stigma and help people with felony convictions rejoin their communities.

Marc Levin, vice president of criminal justice policy at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, said his group supported legislation in Texas and elsewhere to ease the way for felons to return to the community.

He cited a Texas bill that would have allowed some felons to seal their criminal records, though the final law that took effect in September only extended to misdemeanors. A 2015 Texas law provided legal immunity to landlords who rent to felons, and a 2009 law made it easier for felons to get occupational licenses.

In 2010, Texas was tied with Louisiana for the fourth-highest percentage of population with a felony conviction, at about 10.5 percent. That was triple Texas’s 1980 rate.

The findings may help put probation reform on the front burner in some states.

In Georgia, a February 2017 report by a state commission called for shorter probation sentences and lighter caseloads for probation officers. (The Pew Charitable Trusts, which also funds Stateline, assisted with the paper.) Almost 3 percent of Georgia’s adult population was on felony probation as of 2015 — far more than any other state and a 12 percent increase from 2010, according to the latest federal figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Georgia already has taken action to reduce felony convictions. For example, as part of sentencing and classification changes enacted in 2012, the state raised its felony theft threshold from $500 to $1,500.

Felony thresholds vary widely from state to state, from $200 in Florida to $2,500 in Texas. In recent years, many states have raised them to reflect inflation and reduce felony convictions.

Racial Disparities

When crime rates rose in the 1980s and early 1990s, local and state leaders hired more police and they made more arrests, including felony arrests, Phelps said.

In addition, many states elevated nonviolent crimes like drug possession to felony status, and many district attorneys adopted a get-tough strategy, seeking felony charges whenever possible. Police focused drug enforcement on high-crime neighborhoods, which were often predominantly African-American, Phelps said. As a result, felony convictions rose much faster among blacks than among whites.

In 2010, about 23 percent of the black population had a felony conviction. The number of African-American felons increased more than fivefold between 1980 and 2010, while the number increased threefold for other felons. The University of Georgia study did not calculate separate rates for Hispanics or other minority groups.

In left-leaning states such as Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon, one contributor to the growing share of the population with a felony conviction was an increased awareness of new crimes like domestic violence, sexual abuse and animal abuse, said Josh Marquis, a district attorney in Oregon and a 20-year board member of the National District Attorneys Association.

When crime is a major concern in a community, elected district attorneys are especially sensitive to public pressure to file more felony charges, Marquis said.

“We are not rewarded for the number of felonies filed,” Marquis said. “But we do face election and accountability to our neighbors who are also our bosses.”