Documents received by reporters at Willamette Week revealed that 19 District Attorneys across Oregon, including those from Benton and Linn counties, directed funds from their offices toward a civil lawsuit seeking to bring back stricter mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.
Apparently, DAs do have legal discretion to use their offices’ funds in this way. But possibly more troubling is that the people who write laws and those who enforce them
seem to be working at cross purposes.
Foote and other opponents argued that relaxing minimums would increase crime. Supporters of relaxing minimums said the law was intended to decrease prison populations and that the minimums themselves were unfair.
Publicly, the suit was brought by Clackamas County DA John Foote. He opposed the relaxing of mandatory minimums for certain property crimes in House Bill 3078 in 2017, since it overturns a law passed by ballot measure. This usually requires a two-thirds majority vote, which HB 3078 did not have.
The email correspondence received by WW shows Foote’s support network included DAs representing over half of Oregon’s counties, who each gave between $300 and $2000 to the Oregon District Attorney’s Association. The funds, totalling over $10,000, was used to retain an attorney for the civil suit, Tom Christ.
Foote’s lawsuit lost after arguing before the State Supreme Court, on January 31 of this year. He publicly accepted the ruling, but defended his decision to use $2,000 of taxpayer money to “defray the costs” from the case.
By Ian MacRonald