High-profile DA embroiled in political fight


No one would ever accuse Josh Marquis of being shy. This is a district attorney who likes the public's attention.

Even though his bailiwick is Clatsop County in northwest Oregon, Marquis is known in law-enforcement circles around the United States.

He is one of the country's most vocal advocates for the death penalty. He has written numerous pieces for national publications and given speeches around the nation. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited some of Marquis' writings in a 2006 opinion on the death penalty.

"I'm probably one of the most quoted prosecutors in the country on the subject of capital punishment," he proudly told The Associated Press in an interview while he was in Salem for a debate on the death penalty.

But the people who control Marquis' pay &

the Clatsop County commissioners &

don't share other people's high regard for the DA. One says Marquis spends too much time grooming his reputation outside Clatstop County.

Accusing him of not being a team player, the commissioners voted in June to eliminate the $13,900 supplement the county has been paying Marquis for years &

slashing his pay by 17 percent. That left Marquis with the $84,360 base salary paid by the state to district attorneys in the 27 Oregon counties with populations of less than 100,000.

Supporters of Marquis put a measure on the county's Nov. 6 ballot to raise Marquis' pay to at least slightly above its previous level, tying his compensation to that of circuit court judges.

The dispute over Marquis has become one of the nastiest, and perhaps oddest, quarrels over a county district attorney in recent years.

And it's personal.

Marquis and his supporters have accused commission Chairman Richard Lee and other commissioners of election law violations, including "lying in the newspaper, at meetings and in glossy mailers" about what the ballot measure would do. The commissioners deny those assertions.

One of Marquis' leading supporters is Don Haskell, a former county commissioner and retired lawyer. He calls the commissioners who voted to cut Marquis' pay a "bunch of control freaks" who resent his reputation and want to micromanage the DA's office.

"They are jealous of him. The man has a nationwide reputation because of his stand on the death penalty," Haskell said in a telephone interview from his home in Astoria.

Marquis thinks the dispute came up partly because he balked at a push by the commissioners for him to file more cases, particularly felonies. Doing so would bring the county more money since the state provides money to the county probation department when people are convicted of felonies and receive a sentence of probation. Marquis says he refused the request.

But Marquis thinks a lot of the dispute stems from personal animosity on the part of Lee, the commission chairman and a wealthy businessman.

Marquis' wife, Cindy Price, ran against Lee in the May 2006 election. Lee won re-election by 37 votes.

In the mid-1990s, Marquis prosecuted Lee on a charge of violating local dog licensing requirements at a dog-breeding operation Lee was running. The judge sided with Lee.

"There's that issue, plus the fact that my wife ran against him, that might explain some of this," Marquis said.

But Lee denies he's after political payback.

"I have no reason to be vindictive," he said.

Rather, he said, Marquis wouldn't respond to requests for performance measures, an assertion Marquis disputes.

"He spends a lot of time traveling. He spends a lot of time on the radio and lecturing. He spends a lot of time with the media," Lee said. "We just want to know what he's doing in that office."

Marquis and his supporters say crime victims have been pleased with the way the district attorney's office has represented them, and that his office works well with law enforcement officers and other groups involved in local public safety issues.

"I'm the last person out of the office every night. Clatsop County gets way more than 50 hours a week out of me, and for reasons that none of them can seem to articulate, they cut my pay," he said.

Marquis takes special umbrage at advertising paid for by Lee that says if the ballot measure passes Marquis would become "the highest salaried district attorney in the state of Oregon!"

The measure would require the county to pay a supplement to the DA to "top up" his state salary to equal 90 to 100 percent of that of circuit court judges.

With the minimum compensation the ballot measure would provide, the Clatsop DA's salary would be at least $100,000, up to a maximum of $111,000 &

the same as circuit court judges. The minimum would make Clatsop County's DA the 17th highest-paid in Oregon. The maximum would make Clatsop County's DA the 10th highest-paid in the state. The highest-paid DA in Oregon right now is Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk, who receives $147,000.

Marquis isn't the only DA who's lost county supplemental pay in recent years.

Many of Oregon's smaller, poorer counties, especially those that temporarily lost their federal timber payments, have cut their DA pay supplements.

Coos County District Attorney Paul Burgett lost his county supplement about eight years ago. Dismaying as it was, that action was taken for financial &

not political &

reasons, Burgett said.

"The whole thing in Clatsop County is disgusting," Burgett said. "Josh is a fine prosecutor. They are doing a terrible thing to him."

Marquis said he's been heartened by the local support he's received &

from Democrats, Republicans, and others across the political spectrum.

Still, if the ballot measure is rejected, Marquis said he's not sure how much longer he will remain as district attorney.

"If it fails, I would have to question whether I should move on and do something else," he said.

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