OREGON DISTRICT ATTORNEYS
UNION COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
WHY DID YOU BECOME A PROSECUTOR?
In fourth grade, my teacher Mrs. Thompson asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I didn’t know. She asked me what I thought my skills were, and I told her that I enjoyed reading and writing. She suggested I consider a career in publishing or perhaps become a writer. I thought about it and then told her I was concerned that I also really liked to talk. Clearly, as my teacher she was well aware of this and suggested that I should be an attorney. I considered this option for about a nanosecond before I knew she was right on the money and that I was destined to be a lawyer.
Then, a few years later, a man you may have heard of was put on trial for a double homicide. The case garnered a little bit of attention and the lead prosecutor was a woman. I had never seen a female attorney in action and it was not lost on me that she was arguing for the victim and was speaking for the dead. The family in the courtroom was emotional with grief and they relied on the prosecutor to fight for them. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Even though she wasn’t able to convict O.J. Simpson, Marcia Clark showed me that there was honor in a career as a prosecutor. I was fortunate enough to meet Nicole Brown Simpson’s sister, Denise, and tell her about how I had been inspired. I never looked for a plan B and dedicated my life to fighting for victims.
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR WORK?
I find the most fulfillment when the system works the way that it should. I always joke that no one shows up to the DA’s Office on a Wednesday just to see what we are doing. Usually people come to the DA’s Office because something horrible has happened to them. They come to us because they have suffered a trauma, are angry or hurt. They are looking for solutions to problems that they can’t solve themselves. We do everything that we can to help victims’ experience be as smooth as possible—we can’t make it painless, but we want them to be prepared and supported. Especially with children, if I have to color with a child for three sessions before we start preparing for trial, that’s what we are going to do. If we need to take a break and play a round of Pictionary, that what we are going to do. There is no way to describe the feeling of watching a child take back their power and stand up to their abuser in court. It is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. I feel incredibly lucky to be a small part of their journey toward healing. And I may have to get some new jokes because just recently I had a child victim tell me after her case was over that she may just swing by on a Wednesday to see what I am up to.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR WORK?
The hardest part of the job is handling cases and situations where the criminal justice system can’t “fix” the problem. Whether a jury comes back with a not guilty verdict, we can’t find the evidence we need or the law does not allow us to take the action that someone feels they need. Those are truly the scenarios that break your heart over and over again. As with any system, there are limitations and though we may be frustrated at times, we have sworn an oath to uphold the constitution and enforce the laws of this state. I find that that gives little comfort to a person who has been wronged and cannot find solace in a result from the criminal justice system. Those are definitely the hardest days at our office.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOU AND THE WORK YOU DO?
I think that it is also important for people to know what great people they have working for them at the DA’s Office. We all live in Union County. Half of us were raised in Eastern Oregon and we are all choosing to raise our families here now. We aren’t just government officials—we are your neighbors you see at church, parades, and the farmer’s market and at our kids’ soccer practices. We do what we do because it matter to us that the community we live in is safe for ALL of our kids-- yours and ours. We are on call 24/7 and the dedication of the DA’s Office staff is incredible.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE COMMUNITY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM?
One of the most challenging things to explain is the limitations that are placed on both law enforcement and district attorneys by the legislature. There are felony sentencing guidelines that must be followed. I have been working really hard to help educate the community about the role of the District Attorney in the criminal justice system. Often people hear or believe that we have control over the jail or decide sentences when those are functions of the Sheriff and judge respectively. While the DA and the office are important pieces of the wheels of justice, we are just one of those pieces that makes it turn. We work hand-in-hand with all of our community partners; all of which are important for a just and fair outcome.
DO YOU HAVE VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES IN WHICH YOU PARTICIPATE?
I am a member and board member of the La Grande Rotary, and so I spend a lot of time giving back to my community through that organization. I am on the Union County Safe Communities Coalition, the City of North Powder Budget Committee and a former board member and chair of Mt. Emily Safe Center.
Having been on the 1998 High School Mock Trial State Championship Mock Trial team, it should come as no shock that I spearheaded the effort to bring the program back to La Grande High School. This will be my fifth year as the coach for the program and fourth year accidentally volunteering to be the Regional Coordinator for the Classroom Law Project. I LOVE this program and could go on for days about the reasons that it has a monumental impact on the kids that participate. If you have an extra few hours, I would love to tell you about it.
DO YOU HAVE ANY INTERESTING HOBBIES, SKILLS OR TALENTS?
My husband and I love to travel. Since we became parents that has slowed down a little, but not much. Our daughter has been an awesome road-trip sidekick since birth. I am a sucker for a great dinner party, and I throw a festive murder mystery dinner from time to time. Obviously, since we live in Eastern Oregon we spend a ton of time outdoors. In the winter, you can find us at Anthony Lakes skiing (it’s where we got engaged!). In the summer, we love taking our boat out with friends on all of the lakes, rivers and reservoirs in the area. We love camping out on the Snake River or going to as many rodeos as we can hit every summer.
WHAT WORK OF YOUR OFFICE MAKES YOU THE MOST PROUD?
I am the most proud of the staff that my office employs. I often say that although I didn’t hire all of them, I would. In terms of the work we do, I am extremely proud of the Youth Conference we put on in partnership with Center for Human Development and the Union County Safe Communities Coalition. We put on a daylong conference for all Union County 7th graders to learn about online safety, reducing bullying and sexting. We also offer an evening course for parents to learn about the apps their kids are using and how they can keep their kids safe online.
We have a restitution pilot program which is launching this year to help offenders pay victims back more quickly through job shadowing and community service. We operate a clothes closet for victims who are denied entry to the courthouse for lack of appropriate clothing. We are also working very hard to establish a Mental Health Court here in Union County to better address those with mental illness who are entering the criminal justice system.