What a difference a judge makes.

Last Friday, Judge Robert Moberg sentenced Stephen Moore to two days in jail, 18 months probation, a fine of $1,289 and one year's license suspension for driving under the influence of intoxicants.

This was the same infraction for which Judge Kristopher Kaino gave Moore a diversion. Moore had a prior DUII eight years prior to his Astoria incident. State law prohibits two DUII diversions within a 10-year period.

As Tom Bennett detailed in a March 15 article, Kaino's sentence violated state statute. Furthermore, the city prosecutor Dan Van Thiel went along with this miscarriage of justice.

After The Daily Astorian requested that the city attorney seek a writ of mandamus, the case was removed from Judge Kaino and Van Thiel. With Moberg on the bench and Josh Marquis as acting prosecutor, real justice occurred in Astoria Municipal Court.

When questioned by The Daily Astorian in March, legal authorities in Portland and Salem were appalled at what Kaino and Van Thiel tried to pull off. The deal was trebly breathtaking, because the defendant in the case is a lawyer himself and his attorney is one of Oregon's most prominent lawyers whose specialty is DUII offenses. In other words, it was a roomful of people who knew better.

So why did this unholy alliance attempt such a bald trespass of what they knew to be statutory procedure? And why in particular did the people's representatives - Kaino and Van Thiel - go along with the game?

The short answer is that the Astoria Municipal Court is a dark hole of justice. Deals are struck through telephone calls and private conversations. Very little is laid out in open court. There is no transcript. The written record consists of scraps of information in the form of correspondence that often lacks the most essential details.

Why is the municipal court still in business as an adjudicator of DUII cases when so many other small towns such as Seaside have shut down theirs?

Revenues from fines are often cited, but the Astoria Municipal Court is barely a profit center.

The answer is that for certain people, the municipal court is a lucrative venture. Lawyers who specialize in DUII defense may offer their clients a case that will disappear without a trace.

What we have in Astoria is the northern equivalent of the kind of small-town court that is commonly ridiculed in B movies about the South.

In the election that is approaching, the candidates for mayor and council should address these questions. Why does the city continue to employ Judge Kaino after he has demonstrated callous disregard for the law? Why doesn't the city send its DUII cases to Clatsop County Circuit Court?

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