With every passing week, Clatsop County commissioners offer another gambit in order to paper over the mistake they made by axing the county stipend for the district attorney. This week's scam was a proposed contract with the district attorney. Commissioners are spending money on a Portland lawyer (at the rate of $250 per hour) to draft just such an agreement.

The commissioners should know better. And taxpayers should recognize that county commissioners are now playing an expensive game.

No Oregon district attorney would play along with a proposal such as the commission's hired lawyer, John Junkin of the Portland law firm Bullivant Houser, has drafted. The Oregon Attorney General would forbid Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis from signing such an agreement. Here's why. Non-lawyers don't manage lawyers. Moreover, there is the prospect that county commissioners would attempt to limit criminal prosecution through budget manipulation. That would force a district attorney to violate his oath of office.

The separation of powers is a bedrock of the American system of government. That means that the judicial and prosecutorial functions are separate from the executive function, locally embodied in the county commission.

It is painfully clear that our county commissioners don't understand this most basic element of our government.

In their ignorance, the commissioners are also asking Marquis to obligate his successors to this kind of arrangement. That's another reason why the Oregon Attorney General would forbid any district attorney to sign such an agreement.

The politics behind the commission's proposed contract are transparent. Putting a contract in front of Marquis and having him decline it will allow commissioners to say: "See, we tried to work out a management accord and it's not our fault it didn't work out."

All of this might be another hilarious episode of weird local politics if it were not also costing so much. Under his contract with the county, Junkin bills $250 per hour. A rough calculation indicates that commissioners will soon have spent as much on this lawyer as the amount of the district attorney's stipend. Besides drafting this agreement, Junkin advised commissioners on the charter amendment they tried to keep off the ballot.

Ostensibly, commissioners launched this ridiculous fight with Marquis because he wasn't complying with supposed performance-auditing requirements. This, too, looked like an empty effort to explain what was really only a petty attempt to force a strong prosecutor from office. Now we face this irony: It is the commissioners' performance about which voters must worry.


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