Fatal Attraction Fallout

U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall's flameout amid the Kitzhaber investigation could sully the image of her patron, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.

Amanda Marshall grabbed the attention of Oregonians last month when she publicly took command of the largest government corruption case this state has seen in decades.

Marshall, the chief federal prosecutor in Oregon, fanned agents out across Salem in search of evidence that then-Gov. John Kitzhaber and first lady Cylvia Hayes broke the law by selling access to the governor's office.

The allegations drove Kitzhaber from office—and elevated Marshall's profile as Oregon's top crime fighter.

Now, in a twist straight from a B movie, Marshall herself has been driven from office.

She's accused of stalking one of the prosecutors who work for her, showering him with unwanted texts and emails even as he was under 24/7 armed protection because of death threats from Mexican drug dealers.

"It's a little bit bizarre that the biggest case of her career would be an investigation of a politician being brought down by a romantic relationship—and then the same thing appears to be happening to her," says Professor Tung Yin, who teaches criminal law at Lewis & Clark Law School.

There's no evidence of a romantic relationship between Marshall and her top drug prosecutor, Scott Kerin (both are married). But there's plenty of evidence that she pursued him at great cost to herself and potential embarrassment for the man who plucked her from legal obscurity five years ago to make her Oregon's top federal law enforcement officer, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Neither Kerin nor Marshall has responded to requests for comment, and her office has declined to answer questions about the situation.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is responsible for representing the federal government in civil cases and prosecuting complex criminal cases, including white-collar crime, multijurisdictional drug cases and human trafficking. 

The job of U.S. attorney is a political as well as legal position. The president appoints the U.S. attorneys across the country, usually at the recommendation of senior senators.

The jobs are coveted by experienced prosecutors, and candidates for the Oregon post in 2010 included District Attorney John Foote of Clackamas County, DA Josh Marquis of Clatsop County, and the then-interim U.S. attorney for Oregon, Dwight Holton.

Wyden instead tapped Marshall, largely an unknown in Oregon legal circles. She had been an assistant district attorney in Coos County for five years and worked at the Oregon Department of Justice for a decade, specializing in parental rights termination.

Marshall's last two job evaluations at Oregon DOJ were unremarkable. She moved into management only in her final two years and fell below her target for billable hours.

"I am shocked I did not achieve the goal," Marshall wrote in September 2009, adding, "I have struggled to 'keep on top' of my organization."

She gained attention with a Facebook page expressing interest in becoming U.S. attorney, a novel approach to seeking a federal appointment. 

Wyden was under political pressure at the time from the Oregon Women Lawyers, who'd blasted the earlier selection processes for two federal judgeships. Wyden had chosen Michael Simon and Marco Hernandez from candidate lists made up only of men.

Marshall's tenure as U.S. attorney had been largely uneventful, until last year when then-U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty harshly criticized her office's handling of evidence in the murder trial of white supremacist David "Joey" Pedersen. Haggerty excoriated Marshall's office for "prosecutorial misconduct" in its handing of the high-profile case.

Then, in October 2014, allegations of influence peddling and conflict of interest arose around Kitzhaber and Hayes.

Soon, the FBI was investigating. That gave Marshall's office a head start on the Oregon Department of Justice, which reluctantly started its own criminal investigation of Kitzhaber and Hayes in early February.

Late last month, Marshall wrested control of the case from the Oregon DOJ and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, whom the feds wanted out of the way as they pursued the case against the former governor and first lady. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to WW publisher and co-owner Richard Meeker.)

Having the feds take charge made sense: They have more resources, more experience making big political corruption cases, and more distance from Oregon's Democratic Party machine. 

Marshall's moment in the sun was soon eclipsed by allegations about her own behavior.

About four months ago, federal agents put Scott Kerin, Marshall's top drug prosecutor, under round-the-clock protection after threats on his life. Such precautions are rare, according to people familiar with the U.S. Attorney's Office. (Kerin's wife, Michelle, is also a federal prosecutor in that office.)

"As some of you know, Scott Kerin has been under a 24/7 U.S. Marshal protection detail for the last four months," Kerin's direct supervisor, Pamala Holsinger, wrote to office staff March 9 in an email obtained by WW. "That detail has, at times, interfered with work, but is scheduled to come to an end soon."

Marshall took an unusual personal interest in Kerin's whereabouts and his private life.

Sources familiar with the situation tell WW that Kerin filed a hostile workplace environment complaint against Marshall after she allegedly sent him numerous unwanted text and email messages and followed him outside of working hours even during the time when Kerin was under armed guard.

"It brings to mind Monica Wehby," says Professor Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center at Pacific University. Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate last year, saw her hopes fizzle when Democrats produced a police report in which an ex-boyfriend accused Wehby of stalking him.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General came to Portland earlier this month. As a result of their work, Marshall abruptly announced last week she was taking a leave of absence for health reasons.

However, sources familiar with the situation say the U.S. Department of Justice had, in fact, removed her security clearance and her access to agency email based on the investigation.

Marshall's colleagues in the U.S. Attorney's Office don't expect her to return. There's evidence that Marshall, who earned $155,500 a year, had already been looking for a new job.

Marshall, who is married to Yamhill County Circuit Judge Ladd Wiles and commutes to Portland from McMinnville, had talked about pursuing the CEO's job at SAIF Corp., the state-owned workers compensation insurer, and interviewed with at least one private law firm.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has a reputation for employing a strong group of career prosecutors who will do fine without Marshall.

Yet anything that goes awry in her office's investigation of Kitzhaber will probably get blamed on Marshall and, by extension, the Democratic U.S. senator who recommended her appointment, Wyden. 

"The biggest risk here is the Kitzhaber investigation," says Pacific University's Moore.

The senior senator is up for re-election next year and could face questions about his judgment in choosing Marshall over more qualified candidates.

Marshall told Wyden's office last week only that she was going on medical leave, says Wyden spokesman Hank Stern, who says no one in Wyden's office had heard about the stalking allegation. (Disclosure: Stern is a former WW news editor.)

Stern says Wyden has no second thoughts about putting Marshall forward for the job. He says Marshall came recommended by a committee comprised largely of Oregon law enforcement officials.

“Given the information available at the time,” Stern says, “the senator is not going to second-guess those decisions now.”