The View From Here

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

by Ed Kroll, OCDLA President

From the June-July 2016 issue of The Oregon Defense Attorney.

As any of my law school classmates (and current OCDLA members) can tell you, I went to law school to become a prosecutor. The genesis of this idea, like many other ideas in the world, is rather mundane. During high school and college, I watched far too much “Law & Order”—the original series, not one of the many spin-offs. Ben Stone (played by Michael Moriarty) and Jack McCoy (portrayed by Sam Waterston) were the prosecutors I watched. I was blissfully unaware of how inaccurate everything was, but even had I known it might not have mattered. Those guys were awesome! Making a living with words, convincing juries—it seemed like a grand time. I’m sure the law school decision was also pushed by my realization that an English major, with a concentration in Medieval Literature, wasn’t necessarily going to open a lot of doors.

Anyway, I went to law school and immediately set out to become a prosecutor. I worked for the DOJ between 1L and 2L year, and the next summer I clerked for the Multnomah County DA, where I faced such luminary opponents as Neal Weingart, Brad Kalbaugh, and Russell Barnett. Shortly after graduation, I was hired by Multnomah County, and I assumed that the rest would be history. And it was, for about four years.

Somewhere along that path, however, things changed. There wasn’t a specific case, or a specific instance. There was no one triggering factor that I can remember. But like the frog that is being boiled so slowly it doesn’t realize it until the end, I suddenly saw that the system—and Oregon’s system specifically—was set up to hamstring the defense seemingly as much as possible. I didn’t think that this put me on the wrong side, but it did color how I viewed cases. In Multnomah (as I imagine with many large county prosecutor offices), lower-level attorneys have very little independence. You are expected to try cases and follow protocols. Right around when I was prosecuting yet another Interference with Public Transportation, a judge asked me why we were wasting a jury’s time and taxpayer money with this instead of crafting a common-sense resolution (no, Neal, that doesn’t mean a dismissal!). And I found that I could not answer this judge except to say, “That’s the office policy, and I have to follow it.”

Those that know me (and probably those that don’t) know that I’m not necessarily the most diplomatic of people. Hindsight certainly tells me that I should have handled my personal concerns better than I did in that office. I was reassigned to Gresham, back when it was still the old VFW hall, not the fancy new East County Courthouse.

Just as an aside, the VFW was quite the place. There was supposedly toxic mold in the basement. There was a creepy, abandoned dance studio attached to it that you could slip into with weirdly drawn cartoon characters on the walls and headless mannequins scattered about. But, if you braved that, you could wind up climbing to the roof, which was a lovely place to have lunch on a nice day.

Anyway—one day there was a knock on the door of the broom closet that used to double as the prosecutor’s office. Now former DA Mike Schrunk was there, the bearer of bad news. I always did appreciate him coming to tell me in person.

So, I was cast out. I actually had a job offer from a civil firm, and the starting salary was eye-popping—but it just didn’t feel right. After a lot of hand-wringing, I decided I just couldn’t live a billable-hour life, so I hung up a shingle. I figured I knew criminal law, so I might as well focus on defending those accused. One of my first calls was to OCDLA to figure out what this “Pond” thing was and how to join up. I wondered how people would react to a former hard-charging prosecutor joining up.

Flash forward to 2012, having been on this side for a year or two: I got a call from past president David Audet. He was term-limited and seeking someone to fill his spot on the Board. Dave is an excellent salesman, and by the end of the call he had gotten me to send in my statement of interest. I was unopposed, and managed to win election. Now, in 2016, I’ll be ending my term on the Board as its latest president.

No one—not a single, solitary soul—would have predicted this. I sure didn’t. And yet, as the opening quote says, this is exactly where I should be. It feels right. I’ve been happy to serve District 4 as best I could on the Board, and I’ve been beyond honored to be president. It wasn’t the walk in the park I had hoped for, though. This Board was called upon to do more than just about any Board ever, what with John Potter’s retirement. I am very proud to have served OCDLA with such good and dedicated colleagues.

But all good things come to an end, and frankly, in this case, not a moment too soon! I’ve herded enough cats for one lifetime. Thank you, OCDLA members, for accepting me and trusting me. It’s an honor I did not seek, but one that I hope to have been worthy of.

No matter who’s in the chair, our fight continues. Remember that in the coming days, months, and years. Although we may have our internal differences from time to time, we are not the enemy. I opened with a quote, so it seems fitting to close with one as well:

“We, as criminal-defense lawyers, are forced to deal with some of the lowest people on earth, people who have no sense of right and wrong, people who will lie in court to get what they want, people who do not care who gets hurt in the process. It is our job—our sworn duty—as criminal-defense lawyers, to protect our clients from those people.” –Cynthia Roseberry

Remember this. Stand together now and in the future, always.