For our justice system to work, all the parts must do their jobs, honestly and conscientiously. Each must respect the role each plays, prosecutors enforce the law and seek justice and defense attorneys vigorously defend their clients.
When that doesn't happen, the system breaks down. Such a disconnect is unfolding in The Dalles.
There is plenty of crime in Wasco County, but that is not where recently elected Wasco County District Attorney Matt Ellis is focusing his efforts. Ellis, a former defense attorney with absolutely no experience as a prosecutor and elected with the strong backing of Portland defense attorneys, has failed to shed the skin of his former role.
He has, instead, started targeting police officers in a manner that is intended to bring the justice system to a halt.
Ten years ago, this officer was accused by his police department of violating the rules of his job and lying about it. His misrepresentation had nothing to do with any particular case and it would never be admissible in any other trial in which the officer was a witness. He was disciplined internally by his department at the time.
But that wasn't enough for new DA Ellis. Ten years later, one of the first thing Ellis did when he took office was to resurrect that 10-year-old disciplinary case and use it to get the officer fired.
Now he is using it to attempt to dismiss more than 700 old cases in this small county. And he has brought in a bunch of Portland defense attorneys to help him do it.
He is also using this case to target the longtime Wasco district attorney in a complaint to the Oregon State Bar, again with the substantial assistance of Portland defense attorneys.
It is a complicated issue, but we will try to simplify it. District attorneys have an ethical obligation to report any information that might be admissible and exculpatory (helps to prove a defendant's innocence). This piece of evidence was neither admissible nor exculpatory under current Oregon law as well as the law that existed when former District Attorney Eric Nisley was in office.
But that is not good enough for former defense attorney Ellis. He, along with his cronies in Portland, want to change the law so district attorneys must disclose virtually any workplace misconduct by a police officer. (Try to imagine if you had a job with that kind of workplace rule.)
So Ellis and his defense attorney partners are using a bar complaint against Nisley to change Oregon law. That is not only fundamentally unfair, but it is also unprecedented and a highly inappropriate abuse of the bar disciplinary process.
In addition, Ellis and his fellow Portland defense attorneys, have used the press to put pressure on the bar, which is deliberating the bar complaint against Nisley. They leaked their one-sided story to a Portland reporter while the bar was considering the complaint because they were afraid they would lose.
It is what we used to call dirty pool.
On a more personal note, we have both known Eric Nisley personally and professionally, for more than 20 years. We know his family as well. Recently he has been smeared by this cadre of defense attorney true believers, after almost 20 years of unblemished public service as Wasco County district attorney.
Even Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenbaum joined in this witch hunt, illegally trying to remove him from office during his last term. Fortunately the Oregon Supreme Court stepped in and called foul on her abuse of power and returned him to office. But not until the damage was done.
We know the former Wasco County district attorney to be an honorable and decent man, a father and a spouse who served his community with distinction for many years. He is an honest, intelligent, fair minded and talented prosecutor.
John Foote is the former Clackamas County district attorney. Joshua Marquis is the former Clatsop County district attorney.
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