Independence of DA key to justice systemBy Don Haskell
For The Daily Astorian
Democrats, Republicans and Independents have come together to urge "yes" on Measure 4-123. This charter amendment assures the independence of the Office of District Attorney.
Fifty years ago Oregon's Legislature enacted laws for counties to share responsibility for public safety. Under those laws Clatsop County supplemented the state's salary because the DA is the only locally elected state official who manages many county employees and over $1 million in county tax dollars to prosecute criminals.
There's no more direct way to try to manipulate a district attorney than for county commissioners to suddenly slash the salary paid over many years. That's not only unfair and insulting. It's a power grab to run the office pure and simple. Make no mistake about that.
There's no stronger evidence of a power grab than the commission's recent attempt to get our DA to sign an agreement to do the job he's elected to do, and then pay him only if he agrees with them about how to do it. There's no question the commission is trying to control the DA's decisions through the budget process about how the DA spends money to prosecute criminals. Such a contract is terrible public policy. It may even be unethical and illegal.
The independence of the district attorney is fundamental to America's criminal justice system. Only our elected district attorney must decide what and who to prosecute and how, and must be able to do so without threats of pay cuts and other improper attempts by county commissioners to change those decisions. Nowhere in America do district attorneys prosecute criminals by running their offices under contractual say-so of county commissioners.
The commission's gripe that the state should pay all the DA's salary doesn't pass the smell test. Not even once have they tried to get the Legislature to change the law. And the charter amendment ends the county's obligation to pay a supplement whenever there is full state funding.
Measure 4-123 establishes a fair system to supplement the state's share of the DA's salary by indexing the DA's total salary to that of judges. The tactic that this charter amendment is unconstitutional is pure hogwash, just as were the failed efforts to keep you from voting on it.
Under Measure 4-123 the DA's total salary is a minimum of 90 percent of the current $111,132 salary of a circuit judge. Ninety percent equals $100,019. If the measure had been in effect this year, the county's minimum share would've been $15,659, just a little more than the amount the commission slashed. The county's minimum share for the eight months left in this fiscal year is only $10,439. And the county's share won't increase until judges' pay increases, but even then only if the state's DA share stays the same.
A 2007 salary of $100,019 is realistic for lawyers with the education and experience we've come to expect from any district attorney we elect. In comparison, commissioners pay $102,500 to their appointed county manager. DA salaries in larger counties range up to $147,000, and some Oregon law firms pay lawyers out of law school well over $100,000.
Under the Oregon Constitution the district attorney is accountable to county voters and the state bar, not to county commissioners. Separation of powers is a powerful constitutional restraint that county commissioners fail to respect. Instead they seek control over the DA's decisions in running the office to prosecute crime.
Measure 4-123 retains the independence of the Office of District Attorney from unfair and undue influence by commissioners and preserves the integrity of our criminal justice system for many years to come.
We urge your "yes" vote.
Don Haskell, a former Chicago lawyer, is a retired Clatsop County Commissioner.
By Carrie Bartoldus
For The Daily Astorian
District attorneys across the state of Oregon have collaborated their efforts to increase their state-paid salaries through the state Legislature. Appropriately, these district attorneys determined it is a matter best decided by state legislators through existing policies and procedures (ORS 8.790,8.830 and 8.852). We hope that state Legislature rewards them for their cooperative efforts, increasing the salaries of Oregon's hard-working prosecutors.
Upon hearing of his pending stipend cut, recommended by the BOCC budget committee, Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua Marquis became instrumental in the formation of a committee with the sole purpose of raising his salary. Together, they are pushing through a local ballot measure that he penned, forcing Clatsop county residents to shoulder the state's obligation alone. Passage of ballot Measure 4-123 would give our Clatsop County district attorney a set salary greater than state salaries of prosecuting attorneys providing services to counties with populations of 700,000, making Marquis Oregon's highest-salaried district attorney.
Measure 4-123 merely benefits one disgruntled state employee.
Citizens for Clatsop County Charter Integrity oppose this measure for the following reasons:
1. It requires local county taxpayers to bail out state government.
2. Despite the additional cost to taxpayers, this does not provide any new services to the residents of Clatsop County.
3. The district attorney is furthering his own financial gain.
4. This measure does nothing to solve the issue of compliance with budget issues or services to the community.
A brief recap may be in order. The county must deal with a rogue department head refusing to cooperate with local government. Although an elected official that cannot be fired from his state job, Mr. Marquis has two jobs for which he was being paid. His first job is the district attorney for the state of Oregon acting as the state's representative in the local courts for which he is paid a state salary, determined by Legislature. His second job as a county department head, accounting for county funds provided for the staff, materials and resources to enable him to do his state job efficiently. Mr. Marquis has failed to perform as a county department head.
In 2004 all county departments were informed that performance-based budgets would be expected of them for the fiscal year of 2007-08. Three years of work sessions were held showing departments how to reflect expected information in their budgets. Mr. Marquis chose not to attend any work sessions nor did he use any of the measures suggested by a prosecutor's association obtained for him. According to the budget submitted, the district attorney performed no local services for the community. It wasn't formatted properly nor did it use any measurements to show performance. This was supposed to be the end result of a three-year effort.
As written, Measure 4-123 does not resolve this issue. It provides no benefits or services to the community. It removes local control of our county money, letting the state Legislature decide how much we will pay to their district attorneys. The county will still have to pay additional stipends to future district attorneys to be department heads and provide additional local services.
For further in-depth information, documentation and contact information, please visit Citizens for Clatsop County Charter Integrity Web site at (www.charterintegrity.org) or call (503) 468-3434 for information to be mailed to you. We encourage you to become informed on this measure and to vote "no" on Measure 4-123 Nov. 6.
Submitted by Citizens for Clatsop County Charter Integrity public information representative, Carrie Bartoldus (503) 338-8492, (firstname.lastname@example.org)