OREGON DISTRICT ATTORNEYS
MARION COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
WHY DID YOU BECOME A PROSECUTOR?
Is “Because I watched a lot of Law & Order while in High School” a good answer? I might be kidding. But only a little. Because DA Jack McCoy seemed like he had a cool job. One that felt important and driven by a desire to assist deserving people and make things right. I was attracted to that. I was attracted to the ideals that drive prosecutors: integrity, honesty, honor and helping victims of crime get justice. I was attracted to working on the front lines of criminal law, with law enforcement professionals, with juries, with judges and with victims. When I went to law school and landed my first clerkship at the Marion County District Attorney’s Office, I found my tribe. I found people that modeled all those ideals that I first admired in high school. I found work that is challenging and rewarding and valued in the community. And though it turns out the actual job is not exactly how it looked on TV (it takes a LOT longer than an hour to wrap up a murder prosecution), it’s actually better. Because it’s real life. And what we do matters to real people.
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR WORK?
I often get asked if doing what I do makes me bitter or cynical. I typically respond by saying that if doing the job of a prosecutor makes you cynical, you are doing it wrong. You aren’t paying attention. Though we often see the worst in some people, if you are really paying attention, you actually get to see the best. I witness quiet acts of kindness from law enforcement first hand. I watch survivors triumph over tragedy, confront their demons and find that they are stronger than they ever thought. I’m privileged to sit on workgroups and boards and community programs full of volunteers and non-profit warriors who devote themselves to improving the lives of others every day. I stand next to advocates who will hold the hand of a child so she can find the courage to tell the truth. I’m surrounded by an army of Deputy District Attorneys who truly care about helping others and seeking the justice that our community deserves. More rewards can be found in this job than in any other aspect of the legal profession. I consider myself fortunate to be a part of the simple good that can be found in our communities.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR WORK?
Several years ago, all Marion County employees were required to attend customer service training. “Know Your Customer.” I diligently went and sat amongst the other dedicated county employees from departments like Public Works, the Assessor’s Office, the Housing Authority and the Health Department. As our facilitator discussed the importance of good customer service and the importance of meeting our customer’s needs, it hit me. For most employees in that classroom, the folks they deal with want to be a customer. They want that dog license, obtain a permit, fill that pesky pot hole, file their marriage certificate. But for me, as a District Attorney, that is most often never the case. When I am thrust into the lives of my “customers,” it is because something terrible has happened. And nobody wants that. I’m not there because anybody planned for me. I am there when crime interrupts the real plans they had. I am an interloper in their lives - lives that are never the same afterwards.
For 20 years, I’ve gotten to know my customers. Really know them. Mostly in spite of the fact that they never really wanted to know me. I’ve cried with them as they have told me about the bright future of their daughter stolen by the reckless act of a drunk driver. I’ve sat with them as they’ve yelled at me because there is nobody else to yell at and because the criminal justice system seems little consolation in the face of grave violence. I’ve stood up for them in court when they feel like they can’t stand for themselves. I’ve read their heart-wrenching statements at sentencings when their own voices are too weak with grief. I’ve given them bad news. And then sometimes worse news. These are hard things.
But I’ve also been embraced by them when the murderer who gunned down their son is finally held accountable after 10 long years. They’ve also taken my hand and whispered words of gratitude when 12 people in a jury box believed them like I did. I’ve also felt their relief, their liberation from hopelessness, and their courage as they feel prepared to move forward. I’ve watched as these customers, who have every reason to be broken, find strength instead. These are the best things.
And I’ve left them as they walk away from the Courthouse. Different people than when we met. Different people than they were before they were my customer. And then I’ve moved onto the next case. My next customer. The next set of lives who find me there against their will. They inspire me. And those are the things that keep me doing the job.
Everything can be hard in this work. But I’m grateful that I’ve been let into the lives of strangers and for the impact they have had on my life. I wouldn’t change any of the hard things at the expense of all the best things.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOU AND THE WORK YOU DO?
At any given time and on any given day in our office, the heart of the work we do can be found in the individual Deputy District Attorneys who work there. I want people to know how much my staff cares. want people to know that the countless hours they work on their cases is eclipsed only by the hours of sleep they lose worrying about the victims the serve. I want people to understand how our prosecutors count not their wins and losses but instead count on each other to make good decisions and find solutions to public safety problems. I want people to realize that these prosecutors are innovators in our profession who prioritize treatment courts and local engagement as pathways to healthy communities. I want people to see how our Deputy District Attorneys carry the weight of the grief and the fear of survivors just as they weigh fair consequences for defendants.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE COMMUNITY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM?
Prosecutors are crucial members in the criminal justice system. Our job is to enforce and uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State of Oregon. We do not make the law. Nor do we sentence offenders of the law. We are committed to working within a fair and just system that prioritizes public safety. And we are committed to doing our part.
DO YOU HAVE VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES IN WHICH YOU PARTICIPATE?
One of the best things about Marion County is the number of selfless people who truly care about our community. My favorite part of any day is when I get to champion the cause of one of our non-profit organizations that serve our citizens. I am an enthusiastic supporter of CASA (do you have time to help a child in foster care through the court system? If so, check them out!), HOME Youth & Resource Center (providing a multitude of services, activities, and job-training for homeless and at-risk youth), our local Boys and Girls Clubs, Center for Hope and Safety (serving survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking-do you have time to work the crisis line?), and the Salem Leadership Foundation (encouraging people of goodwill to transform their communities through service).
DO YOU HAVE ANY INTERESTING HOBBIES, SKILLS OR TALENTS?
When I’m not at my day job, you can find me toiling away at (truly) the hardest job I do; being a mom of four school-aged kids. I’m likely on the sidelines of volleyball matches, soccer games and at the gymnastics academy. Thus, I’m a great cheerleader, superb laundry folder and mediocre crock-pot gourmet. And if I have a free moment, I’ll rush out to peruse the nearest antique shop for rusty things, take a drive in my “vintage” Ford T-Bird or fantasize about Jazzercizing (Really! You should try it! Leg-warmers no longer required!).
WHAT WORK OF YOUR OFFICE MAKES YOU THE MOST PROUD?
I’m most proud of the prosecutors, victim advocates and staff in our office who work tirelessly as a team to do the right thing. Every day. They want the right thing to happen for victims. They want the right thing to happen for our community. And they want the fair and just thing to happen for every criminal defendant.
Diversion Programs and/or Alternative Sentencing Programs and Community Engagement Programs.
Marion County has three robust treatment courts that focus on targeting the genesis of an offender’s behavior and seeks to address that. Drug Court, Mental Health Court and Veteran’s Court have all seen numerous success stories and have been instrumental in changing lives. The District Attorney’s Office is a key partner in these programs as the gatekeepers of participation and with dedicated prosecutors assigned to each.
The most recent program we helped to initiate is LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), which aims to partner Police Officers on the street with chronically service-resistant individuals suffering with addiction, mental illness and homelessness. Instead of arresting these individuals for their low-level offenses like Trespass or Disorderly Conduct, officers now have a social service navigator who can connect these folks with treatment, housing, and other services at that point of contact. Through LEAD, we’re using the criminal justice system as a bridge to healthier communities.