Lane, Linn county DAs among group suing governor for ignoring victim rights

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has ignored victim rights while granting clemency to inmates, Lane and Linn county district attorneys and others argue in a legal petition.

Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow, along with Linn County DA Douglas Marteeny and four surviving victims, are asking a Marion County Circuit Court judge to compel Brown, the Oregon Department of Corrections, the Oregon Youth Authority and the state’s parole board to “comply with the law.”

Salem-based Mannix Law Firm and Common Sense for Oregon filed the lawsuit online Wednesday on behalf of Perlow, Marteeny and the other plaintiffs. Kevin Mannix, a former chair of the Oregon Republican Party, leads both the law firm and the organization.

A spokeswoman for the governor said the office "generally does not comment on matters of pending litigation."

Brown is only focusing on the rights of the convicted felons, instead of considering the rights of victims and input of district attorneys, Mannix Law Firm attorney Monique DeSpain told the Statesman Journal Wednesday.

"The existing law requires that she consider carefully each individual case ... and that includes the impact on the victim of the crime committed and the experience of the district attorney who prosecuted the criminal. We're simply asking that the governor complies with the laws that currently exist," DeSpain said.

The plaintiffs' request comes as 73 inmates who were juveniles convicted as adults before Jan. 1, 2020, are able to request parole board hearings for a possible early release. Hearings are expected to begin this spring, a spokesperson for the governor said.

Read more: Lane County DA says governor's youth prison clemency announcement ignored victim impact

Brown announced she was using her clemency powers to let those inmates benefit from Oregon Senate Bill 1008, which passed in 2019 and reforms the juvenile justice system. Among other things, the bill eliminates life without parole sentences for youths and gives them a "second look" hearing for a possible release after serving half their sentence. It's also intended to correct any unjust lengthy sentences.

Several Oregon district attorneys, including Perlow, criticized Brown for not notifying victims or their families before publicly releasing the inmates’ names on Oct. 20.

The entire process fails to ignore victim impact from the crimes, Perlow said.

Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow
Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow

“The Governor’s priority is offenders of crimes, many of them violent, and ensuring they have a 'meaningful opportunity to be released’ before they complete their duly secured criminal sentences,” she said in a statement about the legal petition. “Victims of crime, and all other Oregonians, deserve the enforcement of their rights. It is essential that all Oregonians, including public officials, adhere to the rule of law.”

Perlow added she feels “obligated” to ask a judge to intervene and to “raise public awareness of this violation of our state Constitution and the laws surrounding process and transparency in our criminal justice system.”

In the lawsuit, she and the other plaintiffs say most of the 74 granted clemency in October — and nearly all of the 953 people released so far as part of Brown’s use of her clemency powers — have not applied for clemency.

Inmates in Oregon must apply for clemency, and an application states the governor will grant clemency only in “exceptional cases when rehabilitation has been demonstrated by conduct as well as words.”

State law requires the governor to then notify the district attorney of the county where the conviction took place and where the individual is in custody, and requires the DA to notify the victim and provide specific information to the governor, DeSpain said.

That didn’t happen with the commutation order in October, plaintiffs say.

“District attorneys and citizens across the state are voicing their shock and outrage at this sweeping and reckless action by the Governor, fully outside the parameters of Oregon’s established clemency process, denying district attorneys and victims the opportunity to participate as required by law,” the lawsuit reads.

Plaintiffs also argue Brown is violating state law by delegating her clemency power to the Department of Corrections and the parole board, which has been considering the early release of inmates “over whom they have no jurisdiction.”

Additionally, the lawsuit argues Brown:

  • Has broad clemency powers subject to regulation and has “abandon all clemency process and procedure as abandoned by law”

  • Unlawfully extended her clemency powers because some of the inmates won’t be eligible until after she leaves office. Brown already has announced she isn’t running for governor again.

  • “Refused to involve victims” in the process as required by law

  • Made Senate Bill 1008 retroactive when she doesn’t have authority to do so

  • Has illustrated her “willingness to act outside the restrictions on her clemency power.”

The petition is filed in Marion County because that's where Brown's office and all the agencies are located, DeSpain said.

Marteeny said the lawsuit is “not personal” and that he got involved because he believes Brown isn’t following the law.

“The Governor and I simply disagree on the extent of her powers,” he said in a statement. “I believe our laws put limits on her actions. I am working to enforce those limits.”

Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson, who has been vocal about her opposition to Brown's clemency order, previously calling it a betrayal to public safety promises, was not a part of the lawsuit, according to Deputy District Attorney Amy Queen.

In a statement released last October, Clarkson said Brown failed to notify the victims and their families, or the district attorney's office, before pardoning the incarcerated individuals. Clarkson said the order runs contrary to the generally accepted use of clemency power — the group of pardoned individuals was painted with a "broad brush" instead of looking at each case, individually.

The four people who joined Perlow and Marteeny in the lawsuit are surviving family members or loved ones of crime victims:

  • Randy Tennant, whose mother Donna Tennant was killed by her grandson Andrew Johnson in 2012, when Johnson was 17

  • Samuel Williams, whose daughter Jessica Williams was stabbed to death and mutilated then set on fire by Carl Alsup and two others in 2003, when Alsup was 17

  • Amy Jones, Jessica Williams’ sister

  • Melissa Grassl, whose life partner Austin French was shot in the head three times in 2006 by his brother Cayce French, who was 17 at the time

Statesman Journal reporter Virginia Barreda contributed to this story.

Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Lane County DA, others say governor ignoring victim rights in lawsuit

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