For the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office, John Wentworth is the heir apparent.
The 52-year-old Clackamas High School grad and Oregon City resident has spent 20 years as a county prosecutor, climbing up the ladder to reach the rank of chief deputy district attorney.
Wentworth is the only candidate to file for the top job, making him the presumptive winner in the May primary to replace retiring DA John Foote. Yet if his campaign is undisputed, the role of law enforcement is anything but.
Allegations of racist misconduct by a former police officer and chief, Terry Timeus, roiled West Linn and Lake Oswego earlier this year. It will now be up to Wentworth's office to decide whether criminal or ethical violations actually occurred.
"I am deeply troubled by the reported behavior," Wentworth said, adding, "the sense of distrust the public has in law enforcement generally, here's an example where it may be for good reason."
Clackamas' one-man race stands in contrast to Multnomah County, where law-and-order candidate Ethan Knight is duking it out with reformer Mike Schmidt. And unlike the dark money concerns from the 2018 Washington County DA race, Wentworth isn't facing much scrutiny for his $83,000 war chest. He says his top supporter — out-of-state donor Jay Gooding, who gave $10,000 — is an old friend of another senior deputy prosecutor.
Wentworth will have enormous influence over justice in Clackamas County — deciding when to pursue charges, when to cut a plea deal, and when to throw the book. Here's where he stands:
On the courthouse: Wentworth is a strong supporter of the $230-million plan to replace the Oregon City courthouse, which was built for one judge and now hosts 11. "For a county with our population size, we're supposed to have 15 judges," he said. "That's a delay in justice that the public doesn't want."
On cash bail: Putting a price tag on freedom is written into the Oregon Constitution, Wentworth said, and he's unsure whether the people would vote to amend it. "People who have the means to get out of custody can do so, and those that don't have the means can't," he admitted.
On the death penalty: Wentworth has no regrets on sending Dayton Leroy Rogers — the notorious 1980s Molalla Forest serial killer — to death row. It's the only death penalty case from Wentworth's career as a prosecutor.
He's no fan of a "poorly written" new law created in 2019 to limit use of the death penalty, saying it unintentionally reduced the sentence that would be given for attempting to kill a police officer by 30 months. "The message that gets sent," he said, "is your lives aren't worth as much as they were before, and that's a terrible message."
On Measure 11: The 1994 ballot initiative set mandatory minimum sentences for a number of violent crimes, to the ire of activists ever since. Wentworth wouldn't seek its repeal, though he says he supports the search for solutions outside incarceration. "I think the answers to that are farther upstream," he said, "with our families and our communities."
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