Multnomah County District Attorney
Voters looking for an easy choice on the Multnomah County ballot have one here. Not because one candidate is clearly more qualified. Rather, because no other race offers such a stark contrast in how the rivals view the office they are seeking.
If you think the county's top legal post should be a bully pulpit for criminal justice reform, Mike Schmidt is your man. If you're looking for someone with a more traditional take on the job, as the manager of a team of prosecutors, Ethan Knight should get your vote.
Schmidt makes a compelling case for his viewpoint. As head of the Oregon Criminal Justice System he has seen (and sometimes generated) the evidence of lingering disparities in how Oregonians are treated in jails, courts and prisons. He understands that the DA has to charge and prosecute those accused of crimes, but he wants the office to adopt an evidence-based reform of current practices, giving the public greater access to the data that drives decisions and push for alternatives to the path to prison. It's a script that's worked to usher in much-needed reforms in other parts of the country.
His campaign, not surprisingly, is garnering support from a lot of left-of-center politicians and activists, from Gov. Kate Brown to the entire county board of commissioners. But he also is backed by dozens of lawyers, Columbia County DA Jeff Auxier and Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese.
He's also endorsed by more than two-dozen state legislators, support he says that would allow him to get funding for some of the reforms he has in mind.
We support what Schmidt wants to do, but are concerned he'd be unable to pull it off while managing a staff of more than 200, including 80 lawyers and overseeing a $35 million budget. Yes, he did work in the DA's office right out of law school, but for only for five years. In his current job, he says he oversees 25 people.
Knight's approach to the post would be much different. He says the DA's focus must be on handling an annual caseload of nearly 20,000 criminal cases "as fairly as possible."
He, too, sees room for improvements, saying courts provide a snapshot into societal problems, and more needs to be done to do to overcome a history of racial injustice and lingering insensitivity to victims.
But the Portland native is basically campaigning to provide a smooth transition after Rod Underhill steps down in January after two four-year terms.
Like Schmidt, Knight worked for the county prosecutor's office, from 1999-2007, before taking a job down the street as an assistant U.S. attorney.
Knight certainly would face a bit of a re-learning curve coming back to his old workplace, but his two decades of active litigation would make it a far easier climb than the one that would await Schmidt.
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