Oregon’s district attorneys work for the citizens they represent (Guest opinion)


Oregon’s district attorneys want to be held accountable by the people of this state. I have been personally involved in three contested elections over the years where issues were raised and voters informed. Even when not involved in contested elections, I reach out to members and organizations of the community on a daily basis. That is what a democracy is all about.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between that accountability and the disingenuous political crusade by the unelected and unaccountable director of the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union who aims to mask an ideological move as an educational campaign.

Let’s be clear what Executive Director David Rogers’ true purpose is: He doesn’t like the reforms of the criminal justice system that Oregon’s district attorneys have helped shepherd over the last 35 years. So, he has embarked on an ideological effort — masquerading as something else — to dismantle those reforms.

We welcome this as an opportunity to further engage Oregonians about what has gone right with those reforms and the system, and how those reforms must be protected and even extended.

Oregon’s elected district attorneys, led by now-retired and highly respected Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk, have been a moderate voice for criminal justice reform for some four decades. Yet the real leaders of criminal justice reform have been Oregon’s voters. When violent crime was out of control, Oregon voters passed the Crime Victims Bill of Rights in the 1980’s, Ballot Measure 11 in 1994 and other victims’ rights constitutional changes later in the 1990s. When compared to other states, it was a moderate rebalancing of the system with the strengthening of sentences for a relatively small number of violent crimes. Since the passage of these measures and associated laws, violent crime in Oregon has dropped more than 50 percent. Today, after Oregon voters made violent crime and crime victims’ rights a priority, our state has the highest percentage of its prison inmates incarcerated for a violent crime.

After property crime remained even after these changes, voters again took action to moderately strengthen sentences for career property offenders, such as identify thieves, burglars and car thieves. Since the passage of Measure 57 in 2008, property crime in Oregon also has dropped. Despite these moderate increases, Oregon’s incarceration rate is still well below the national average and is projected to fall further during the next 10 years. 

And, this was a bipartisan effort. Oregon’s Democratic Party leaders  have also participated in our state’s highly effective, yet moderate reforms. Attorney General Hardy Myers, District Attorney Schrunk and Gov. Neil Goldschmidt – all Democrats — led the effort in 1989 to establish “truth in sentencing” with the establishment of Oregon’s sentencing guidelines system.

Oregon’s elected district attorneys continue to work hard to protect this proud legacy of moderate criminal justice reform. But that has made them the target of the current leadership of Oregon ACLU, which wishes to repeal all these efforts and turn back the clock to the early 1980s. Already, they have been involved in trying to chip away at Measure 57-enhanced sentencing of repeat property offenders. And you can be sure more such efforts are planned. We stand in their way.

Oregon’s district attorneys want to be held accountable. We know who we work for. Our citizens want justice and safety. It is our job to help them reach those lofty goals.

John Foote is the Clackamas County District Attorney. For more information, read the Oregon District Attorneys Association’s report, The Oregon Criminal Justice System in 2016: A Continuing Success Story. 

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