November 11th, 2009 | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

ROGUE OF THE WEEK: More from Kate Brown (and Ginny Burdick) on the Washington County DA's Office

Kate Brown

Our current Rogue of the Week, the Washington County District Attorney's Office, drew ire from two prominent Oregon politicos over the decision to charge a teenage driver with felony domestic violence.

One of the beauties of the web is it's not bound by space. So we're expanding here with additional quotes and context.

In interviews with WW, Secretary of State Kate Brown and state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Southwest Portland) both said bringing the charge against Yesenia Aguilar Gutierrez flies in the face of the law's intent to protect domestic-violence victims.

They ought to know. Brown wrote the law as a state senator in 1997, and Burdick was a co-sponsor.

"I'm just gravely concerned that they would be using this legislation that was clearly targeted regarding the harms around domestic violence," Brown says. "A huge portion of kids in the foster system are there due to domestic violence. That was the intent of the bill."

A little background on the case: Last July, Aguilar crashed into a stop sign on her way home to Hillsboro. The passenger-side airbag deployed, striking her 4-year-old niece, who was sitting on the lap of Aguilar's 15-year-old brother Julian.

The niece, Alondra, should have been in a child seat. She was injured with a bruise and cuts to her cheek. The cops cited Aguilar, who was 18 at the time, for misdemeanor reckless endangering. But Jason Weiner, a Washington County deputy district attorney, upped the charge to felony fourth-degree assault based on Brown's 1997 law.

That law, Senate Bill 553, aimed to crack down on domestic violence by making it a felony to commit assault in the presence of a minor who resides in the household of the assailant or the victim. It also created felonies for repeat domestic-violence offenders.

Because Julian witnessed Aguilar's alleged assault on Alondra, and he lives with Aguilar, Weiner says the law applies. A grand jury agreed. But like Brown, Burdick is shocked the law is being applied to this case.

"Oh my goodness, that was not the intent of the law. Absolutely not," Burdick says. "When a child witnesses parents or step-parents beating each other, it's very traumatic on the child. A car accident is also traumatic for a child, but the situation you are describing is not the intent of the law."

"I would vote for that bill again," Burdick adds, "but that's not what it was intended (to do)."

Weiner declined to discuss the case in detail, citing bar ethics rules that prevent him from doing so. But he dismissed concerns by Brown and Burdick, saying he applied the law as written.

"They're entitled to say that," Weiner says. "The statue itself reads the way it reads. I don't believe it's been misapplied in this case. I'm certainly not going to criticize them for having their opinion, and I guess if they feel so strongly about it, they can do something to change it (the law)."

Weiner declined to say whether he checked with District Attorney Bob Hermann or Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Bletko before pursuing the felony assault charge.

Meanwhile Aguilar's defense attorney, Drew Baumchen, says he's ready to fight.

"We intend to challenge this charge in court," Baumchen says, "because we think the Legislature intended this law be used for domestic violence cases."
 
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