Oregon's district attorneys have long been at odds with left-leaning lawmakers and criminal justice reform advocates in Salem. But nothing has inflamed hostilities like a recent newspaper op-ed by a former DA who compared property theft to sexual harassment and assault.
Recently retired Clatsop County DA Joshua Marquis wrote an op-ed for the Portland Tribune last month that compared property crimes to the sexual harassment endured by women in the state Capitol—because both are "inappropriate touching."
Records newly obtained by WW show Marquis' op-ed set off a flurry of emails between members of the Oregon District Attorneys Association. Despite several district attorneys privately condemning the piece, the ODAA refused to disavow Marquis' op-ed. Other DAs defended Marquis, saying he should be allowed to say what he believes as a private citizen now that he's retired, and blamed tensions in Salem for turning the backlash into a "with-us-or-against-us moment." (Marquis, for his part, tells WW, "It's a sad state of affairs when any criticism of legislators is met by 'burn the witch.'")
The association's lobbyist quit a week later. Emails obtained by WW show DAs blaming her departure on the op-ed.
That leaves the state's prosecutors marooned without an advocate in Salem in the middle of a legislative session in which lawmakers could pass significant changes to the criminal justice system—including changes to plea bargaining and sentencing for juvenile offenders—without meaningful input from the district attorneys.
Here's a timeline, gleaned from interviews and public records obtained by WW, that shows how the state's top prosecutors eroded their own political clout.
Feb. 27: Retired Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua Marquis publishes an op-ed in the Portland Tribune.
"Let me tell you what inappropriate touching feels like. It's nothing like the prolonged hugs, the hand on the shoulder, the rubbing up against another person that is apparently rife inside the state Capitol building. Inappropriate touching is when you come home from work and find that someone has broken into your home and ransacked the place."
March 4: Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson apologizes to Sen. Sarah Gelser (D-Corvallis), whom Marquis criticized for voting to reduce penalties for some felonies as she demanded consequences for sexual harassment in the Capitol.
"I found the analogy in the editorial to be offensive, and a terrible marginalization of sexual harassment…. Since reading the editorial, I have been haunted by the implications of using marginalizing sexual harassment analogies to advance political interests."
March 7: Legislators on the Joint Committee on Public Safety berate representatives of the Oregon District Attorneys Association over Marquis' op-ed, calling it "offensive at best," during a public committee hearing on prosecutors' biennial funding.
March 14: The ODAA sends a letter to legislators emphasizing that the association "stand[s] firmly with victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment" and distancing the group from the op-ed, but it stops short of condemning Marquis' statements.
"ODAA speaks through its executive board and through those specifically delegated with the authority to operate on its behalf, such as its president and executive director. No one else speaks on behalf of the ODAA. The positions ODAA takes do not always mirror the positions of each of its individual members."
March 15: ODAA lobbyist Amanda Dalton quits. (Her formal resignation is filed several days later on March 19.) The association's president, Beth Heckert, says the op-ed was a "contributing factor" in Dalton's departure, in addition to her commitments to other clients and "political strategy for the future." The association will not seek a replacement lobbyist this legislative session. Dalton did not return WW's requests for comment.
Emails sent among the state's top prosecutors say that Dalton quit because the executive board refused to denounce Marquis' op-ed, which left ODAA "screwed" in the Capitol. A March 15 email from Coos County DA Paul Frasier shows that district attorneys talked to people in Salem to get a sense of how the Marquis op-ed had affected the prosecutors' legislative agenda.
According to the email, John Bishop, executive director of the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association "confirmed that Amanda had quit last week over the E-Board not addressing [Marquis'] letter. He went on to tell me that unless ODAA as an organization strongly disavowed this Op Ed that we were:
'That by not responding we had pissed off all of the D's and most of the R's.'
'That nothing we want to pass will have a chance in hell.'
'That no one will listen to us or give our opinion on anything of any weight.'
'That we needed to get Amanda back on board no matter what it takes.'
"John explained that what influence we had with the legislature (which wasn't much to begin with) came from their respect for Amanda. Without Amanda, they won't listen to anything we have to say. According to John, without Amanda, we have no chance on anything."