New Oregon Liquor Control Commission Director Was Arrested for DUII in 2010

Steve Marks told a state trooper he hadn't been drinking; the breathalyzer showed he had been.

The newly named executive director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission was arrested in September 2010 for driving under the influence of alcohol, and he twice denied to a state trooper he had been drinking, even though a breathalyzer subsequently showed that wasn't true, documents obtained by WW show.

Steve Marks, 52, was then a campaign aide to Gov. John Kitzhaber. Marks has worked for Kitzhaber, who in 2010 was running for a third term, as one of the governor's closest aides for the past 28 years. Kitzhaber selected Marks to head the OLCC earlier this month. The liquor control board made his appointment official today.

Marks' arrest, which has not been reported before, came on Sept. 29, 2010, while Kitzhaber was in a close election battle with Republican Chris Dudley.

The OLCC is the wholesaler of all the liquor sold in Oregon and regulates all alcoholic beverages sold in the state. Its key enforcement priorities include reducing underage drinking and drunken driving.

Marks nodded to those duties today in remarks to the OLCC commission when it unanimously appointed him as the new director.

"Our first obligation is to protect the public and communities with fidelity, fairness and integrity," Marks said.

Marks is not the first OLCC director in recent years with a history of getting into trouble for drinking and driving. In 2006, then-OLCC Executive Director Teresa Kaiser was arrested in Portland for drunken driving. She emailed her resignation to commissioners shortly afterward.

Marks was not convicted of the DUII charge. State court records don't show the case against Marks, and it's not clear if he was ever formally charged after his arrest. The "case status" section police report says "closed by adult arrest" and "referred to Washington County District Attorney for review." A spokeswoman for the Washington County DA said records were not immediately available.

Marks says he disclosed the incident to the governor and the OLCC.

"I was never charged. There is no conviction. They didn't pursue it," Marks says.

Asked about whether he misled the trooper, Marks declined to comment.

"I'm not going to nitpick the police report," he said. "I'll let that stand."

Marks says he regrets the incident and that it was a "learning experience" for him. "It's a perfect lesson to me and to other drivers about the need to take responsibility when you use alcohol and get behind the wheel," Marks says.

The governor's office confirms Kitzhaber was aware of Marks' arrest before selecting him to run the OLCC.

"Steve told the governor about the incident, and the commission was informed before they made their decision," says Kitzhaber spokesman Tim Raphael. He said the governor would have no further comment.

OLCC Chairman Rob Patridge says he was aware of the arrest and says it should have no bearing on Marks' work as the agency's executive director.

"I'm not sure why it's relevant," says Patridge, who is the district attorney of Klamath County. "We dismiss cases like that all the time. I'm an innocent-until-proven-guilty guy. It's not relevant."

An Oregon State Police report obtained by WW says Marks driving south on Interstate 5, just south of the 217 interchange, when a trooper pulled over his black Honda convertible for speeding Sept. 29, 2010, at around 9 p.m. The state trooper clocked Marks driving at 80 mph in a 55-mph zone.

Marks told the trooper he was on his way home to Salem from Kitzhaber's Southeast Portland campaign headquarters.

"I asked the driver if he had a reason for speeding," Trooper James Duncan wrote in the report "When the driver responded, I noted he hesitated before answering and when speaking his speech was slow and slurred."

"I asked Mr. Marks what he had been drinking," the trooper wrote. "He told me he had not had anything to drink. I asked him if he was sure of his response because he looked down and hesitated noticeably before responding, he told me he had not been drinking."

The trooper then asked Marks if he thought he could pass a field sobriety test and would be comfortable taking one. "Mr. Marks responded again, he had not been drinking and would pass the tests," the trooper wrote.

"At the rear of his vehicle, I conducted an Alcohol Influence Interview," the trooper wrote. "During the interview I noted Mr. Marks had a visible sway while standing and his speech was slurred."

Marks submitted to a "walk and turn test" and a "one leg stand test." He fared poorly on both, the report says. "Mr. Marks chose to stand on his left leg and raised his right hand," the report says. "He swayed while balancing at least three times and used his arms for balance four times."

Concluding Marks was impaired, the trooper then read Marks his Miranda rights and placed him under arrest.

"I told Mr. Marks I could tell he had been drinking due to his performance on the tests and asked him to be honest," the trooper wrote. "He looked down, hesitated, and told me he drank one beer at about 4:00 pm."

Marks explained his poor performance on the sobriety tests by saying he was "tired from his workout in the morning and he had not 'consumed a meal' prior to drinking and had not eaten since lunch."

The trooper ordered Marks' vehicle towed and took him to OSP's Tualatin barracks for a breathalyzer test.

"At 9:45 pm Mr. Marks submitted a breath sample .05 % BAC," the report says. (Oregon law says a driver with a .08 BAC is automatically considered to be intoxicated, but the driver may be arrested for intoxication at lower levels.)

The trooper then drove Marks to a Shari's restaurant in Tualatin and released him.

"At the time of release I noticed no change in degree of Mr. Marks' impairment from the beginning of contact," the trooper wrote. "His speech was still slurred and I smelled the moderate to slight odor of an alcoholic beverage that I had not smelled at roadside."

Marks' hiring by the OLCC appeared to end a long and tortured process. Kitzhaber forced former director Steve Pharo out of his $138,000 a-year-job last October. The Oregon Department of Administrative Services then conducted two recruitments earlier this year, according to DAS spokesman Matt Shelby.

Of 71 applicants, 42 met minimum qualifications but the hiring panel rejected them all. In June Kitzhaber asked his appointments director, Kendall Clawson, to take the job but Clawson rejected the opportunity.

That left the position for Marks, who worked as a lobbyist while Kitzhaber was out of office from 2003 to 2011. He's been working in a $96,000-a-year job at the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.

OLCC Chairman Patridge, who was a state legislator, says he has worked closely with Marks over the years. "We need the strong relationship with local government," Patridge says. "Steve's phenomenal in his relationship with law enforcement."

Patridge says he isn't bothered that the police report says Marks told the trooper he hadn't been drinking—then changed his story after the breathalyzer test showed he had.

"Things often change from a police report when you put the officer on the stand," says Patridge, whom Kitzhaber named to his job as Klamath County DA in March.