In Oregon, long-time district attorneys often retire early, before their terms have been completed. Why? In some cases, this allows the existing district attorneys to hand pick their successors. However, it is not technically the outgoing DA’s job to pick their successor. The existing DA can only make a recommendation. In Oregon, it is the governor who appoints interim DAs to serve until the next election.
Why do these appointments matter?
The person appointed is commonly a deputy of the outgoing district attorney, and this person becomes the incumbent in the next election. Since district attorney elections are usually uncontested and incumbents have a clear advantage, the appointed district attorney frequently becomes the next longtime DA.
In effect, these appointments determine who many of our district attorneys are. Of the 36 current district attorneys in Oregon, over half first attained their position through gubernatorial appointment.
A process with problems
Appointing a DA is one of the most important public safety and justice-related roles the governor has. However, the governor commonly just picks the interim district attorney without much public notice or clear criteria for evaluating candidates for the job, if more than one candidate was even considered.
How is that appointment done? How do potential candidates learn of an opportunity to be considered for the office? Who is consulted? How does the public find out about this transfer of power?
Governor Brown is taking a more thoughtful approach to these appointments. The public should encourage the Governor to continue to head in a better direction. It’s one of the most important justice related roles the Governor has.
A need for new perspectives
Some government leaders are on the leading edge of innovation, embracing the latest research to implement policies and practices that better serve the public. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case with Oregon DA’s.
On the job experience must count for something, but continual promotion from within a flawed system is holding back progress and reform. We believe the governor should appoint DAs who are prepared to take our criminal justice system out of the 1990s.
The need for transparency
The appointment process needs the time and outreach necessary to ensure that a robust pool of candidates can emerge. To accomplish this, the governor should:
Shine a light on the selection process.
Work to recruit diverse candidates who reflect Oregon values.
Develop criteria to evaluate candidates.
Let the public provide feedback on candidates.
Questions the governor’s office should ask to identify candidates able to modernize our justice system and implement fair and effective policies:
Which candidates are open to reforming Oregon’s outdated, one- size-fits-all mandatory minimums?
Does the prospective DA understand the extensive national research that shows it is much more effective from a public safety standpoint to keep youth in the juvenile justice system rather than charging them as adults?
What about the candidate’s’ background suggests they can effectively address issues of racial disparity?
Is the candidate open to engaging in thoughtful pre-trial reforms to reduce the number of people needlessly jailed while awaiting court proceedings?
Does the candidate have a solid and up to date understanding of how to address the complicated social problems that impact crime?
Besides just a focus on prosecution, how does the candidate plan to address public safety issues?
Which candidates are best positioned to develop effective and multi-faceted community partnerships?
Will they support statewide policy efforts needed to reduce Oregon’s overreliance on incarceration.
Now take the next step: Contact the governor’s office