The View From Here

A Winter’s Tale

by Lane Borg, OCDLA President

From the Apr-May 2014 issue of The Oregon Defense Attorney.

January and February can be tough months in Oregon. The weather is less than inspiring, green is replaced by gray, and the legislature sees fit to meet. Those of us who have lived here for a few decades have adjusted to this pattern of gloom and have learned to create our own rays of sun. Certainly OCDLA’s Legislative Committee was up to that task when faced with a larger than expected pile of substantive bills in the “short session.” Plenty of poorly constructed ideas and a few good ones. Gail Meyer and our committee turned back the bad bills, keyed up some good ones for the 2015 session and managed to pass a new statutory speedy trial bill.

Over on the fiscal side, gloom from a lingering recession and flat economic forecasts portended a rough road to recovering public defense funds that were held back at the end of the 2013 session. The so-called “2% holdback” was yet another economic cloud dampening the spirits of public defense providers. This time the bright light was Nancy Cozine, OPDS ED. She worked behind the scenes with Ways and Means leadership and the Legislative Fiscal Office to release the holdback and avert a breakdown in defense services. Kudos to Nancy and those who provided support.

The legislature had barely opened its doors when Mother Nature dumped a foot of snow on a significant portion of the Willamette Valley. The snow started falling less than 24 hours before the start of OCDLA’s Trial Skills College to be held at U of O Law School. Ten minutes before the close of business the day before the college was to begin, OCDLA was notified that the law school, along with the entire campus, would be closed. Undeterred, OCDLA staff spent the evening hours rearranging the new office building and notifying students that we would carry on as scheduled, albeit in a different location. Attendance dropped by 40 percent, but a student from Texas, a key speaker from Wisconsin and all but two of the Oregon faculty found their way to the OCDLA office for what many deemed the best Trial Skills College yet. It was quite a commitment to member service – good job. There is talk about using our new home as the host site next year too.

Speaking of legal education, the DUII seminar held on March 7 and 8 came off without a hitch and the new 2014 DUII Trial Notebook was released (all three volumes). Credit Bruce Tarbox and a slug of other contributors for the Notebook makeover. I should also mention the DUII reception held at the office and sponsored by Cox & Associates, Kenn Meneely, Bruce Tarbox, and Thuemmel, Uhle & Eder was warmly received. Over 100 members and guests strolled down from the Hilton under unusually sunny skies and made short work of $1000 of sushi, finger food and a couple of pony kegs of Planktown beer. Thank you sponsors.

Back in December the OCDLA created a Pay Parity Committee to look at the current structure of public defense funding as it is applied to non-profit public defenders, consortiums and private contract providers. The committee has already met five times, poured through stacks of data, sorted fact from fiction and grappled with the definition of parity itself. The next meeting is April 22. The plan is to finalize a report and recommendation for presentation to the OCDLA Board on May 2. The Board would then have information to present to the Public Defense Services Commission on May 15. Running parallel to the work of the Parity Committee, the OCDLA Board voted to hire a fiscal lobbyist for the FY15 Legislative Session. A search committee has been established, with candidate interviews slated for April 22, and recommendations presented to the Board on May 2. Lots of energy and volunteer effort is being targeted at the frustratingly stubborn problem of properly funding Oregon’s public defense system.

Oregon is on the cusp of having an Innocence Project. We are the only state in the union not covered by an Innocence Project. The kickoff party and fundraising event is scheduled for April 9. The OCDLA Board and Executive Director have personally contributed $5,000 in OCDLA’s name to have OCDLA become a Founding Partner. The OIP will be the only program within Oregon whose sole mission is to actively track inmates’ claims of innocence, investigate those claims, test DNA and other scientific evidence, and litigate when appropriate. It’s a long time coming and we are pleased to play a role.

Finally, more good news to brighten the gray days: Sam Lawson was vindicated and released after being held in custody for 10 years, wrongfully convicted of aggravated murder. The Lawson case has been watched nationally and changed the face of the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Both a 2012 opinion by former Chief Justice Paul De Muniz and the hard work of dozens of OCDLA members contributed to the eventual outcome. The list is extensive but includes lawyers Peter Fahy, Mark Sabitt, Kevin Sali, Dan Casey, Laura Graser, investigators Mike Whitney and Pam Rogers, experts Dan Reisberg, Jim Pex and Bill Bodziak , and legal assistant Barbara Fahy. An impressive effort spanning a decade of work. And a good way to end the dark days of winter.