Guest column: DA shares his view on ballot isssue

By Josh Marquis
For The Daily Astorian
Thursday, October 25, 2007

With Measure 4-123 you have the chance to cast a vote that will send a message about the importance of the independence of your elected district attorney.

In any community, perhaps particularly in a small one like ours, it's not unusual for prominent and influential citizens or their friends and families to become either the victim of a crime or the suspect in a crime. And we all know that it hasn't been so many years since many in the county felt that if you just knew the right person in the DA's office, a criminal case could be made to disappear.

The pervasiveness of that sort of thinking, whether it's really true or not, creates enormous distrust. Citizens may feel that the very fabric of a fair system of justice, in which everyone is equal before the law, is made of whole cloth. That was the environment when I was appointed district attorney in 1994.

It took a few years and the will and resources of previous county commissions to rebuild the office of the district attorney. My philosophy and policies of aggressive advocacy tempered with fairness have restored community confidence in the office and have instilled self-confidence and increased professionalism in the now 18 men and women who work for me.

Some of the decisions the district attorney's office makes are not particularly popular. We don't seek to be popular. Nor do we seek to be feared. We seek to be respected, and I think we are succeeding. Victims report great satisfaction with the way the district attorney's office represents their interests. We enjoy good working relationships with the police agencies, the judges and the many nonprofit agencies that provide support to law enforcement and victims.

Yet this is not enough for most of our current county commissioners. After several failed attempts to convince me to change my well-working philosophy and practices of conducting the work of the district attorney's office, they did the one thing they can do with alacrity: eliminate the supplementary pay the county has provided for the past 12 years - 15 percent of my annual salary. With no good reason. And no notice whatsoever.

I was hit square upside the head on May 14, when the majority of the commission voted to eliminate - immediately upon formal adoption of the budget the next month - my $13,900 annual supplement.

The county has supplemented my state salary for the past 12 years because I am a county department head, with all the duties of every other county department head. Thirty to 40 percent of my time is spent hiring, training and supervising the six lawyers and 11 support staff in my office, and managing the department's budget of $1.3 million of your county tax dollars - frugally and creatively, returning tens of thousands of dollars to the general fund each year.

The commissioners say they have no idea what I do or what my office does, despite very detailed annual budget presentations and a $10,000 workload study that they commissioned last year.

Ironically, while they say they have no idea what I do, they've asked me to file more cases, particularly felonies, because the state provides money to the county probation department when people are convicted of felonies and receive a sentence of probation.

The commissioners don't want a fair and impartial system of justice. They want a revenue stream.

I refuse.

Their response? Personal attacks on me and my family. Using your tax dollars to fight an enormously popular ballot initiative. Lying in the paper, at meetings and in glossy mailers.

You are probably sick and tired of this fighting. So am I. Since April I've invited them to come to the courthouse any day, or to meet with me in any forum they prefer. They refuse. They've even hired a Portland law firm, again using your tax dollars, to represent them so that I cannot even approach them at a public county commission meeting.

The only resolution these commissioners are interested in is one that forces me to resign my principles or to simply go away.

The message sent by your "yes" vote on Measure 4-123 is this: The office of the district attorney of Clatsop County provides a tremendous service to the county, and it is the elected district attorney who should make the decisions about how the office operates.

I thank you for your support over the years.

Josh Marquis has been Clatsop County DA since 1994, when he was appointed by Gov. Barbara Roberts. He was elected later that year in a contested election by a 3-to-1 margin and was re-elected in 1998, 2002 and 2006.