Moving drunk-driving cases from Astoria Municipal Court to Clatsop County Circuit Court makes sense. Of course, it always has made sense. But now there is an explicit proposal. County District Attorney Josh Marquis delivered it in person to the Astoria City Council Monday. County Sheriff Tom Bergin said, "This is a smart thing to do, as far as I'm concerned."
The reasons why the city should eagerly divest itself of DUII cases are published by The Daily Astorian every few years. These have been gross miscarriages of justice. The first poster child was the Stephen Moore case of 2002. Then there was the Sarah Leloff case in 2005. And most recently we had the case of David Lee Gonzalez, whose DUII arrests were thrice dismissed in municipal court. A fourth case moved to Circuit Court, where Judge Phil Nelson revoked Gonzalez' driver's license for life.
Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen says this proposal will get a thorough hearing. While there will be talk of dollars and cents, the main impediment to making this change is cultural. While virtually all other aspects of Astoria city government are professionalized, the municipal court is stuck in the good-old-boy era. It benefits the town's leading DUII defense lawyer to have the municipal court as a procedural option. The essential flaw is that the municipal court judge is also a criminal defense lawyer, so he is supposed to work both sides of the street. While Municipal Judge Kris Kaino is a talented defense lawyer, he is not in the same league as Circuit Court judges Paula Brownhill, Phil Nelson and Cindee Matyas. If one of the circuit court judges had been complicit in a decision such as Kaino's in the Stephen Moore case, the state Judicial Fitness Commission would have paid them a visit.
Marquis has given the city an excellent option. Good judgment in politics frequently involves making the obvious choice. This is the obvious choice.