Candidates for Lincoln County District Attorney


Jonathan Cable

While district attorneys are obligated to follow written statute, they also have a great deal of discretion when it comes to how they apply it in each particular case. Do you have an overarching philosophy for practicing law as a prosecutor?

I have a tiny piece of paper taped to my computer monitor in the District Attorney’s Office with a quote I have always tried to follow. It is from U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson in 1940 describing the role of a prosecuting attorney: “The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman … a sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not fractional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.”

The way I have put this ideal into practice is by keeping in mind my role: to do justice. That means charging only what can be legally proven and what is fair and just considering the evidence and the potential outcomes. Additionally, no one should be treated differently because of who they are or who they know. I have always adhered my practice to these principles and will continue to encourage my staff to do the same.

Further to question one, how much discretion would you allow your deputies in prosecuting cases to which they are assigned?

The district attorney’s office handles approximately 2,000 filed cases annually. There are 11 attorney positions in said office. I, obviously, cannot micromanage each individual file or outcome. However, as the district attorney, I am ultimately responsible for every case and every decision.

I have an open-door policy to work through issues in any case with those in the office. One of the things I enjoy most is talking with deputy district attorneys to help them find the right answer themselves. However, individual attorneys are responsible for their cases and are entrusted with using their best judgment and experience in making decisions. It is, therefore, crucial that the right people are recruited and hired as deputies.

There are some talented deputies in the office, but turnover has hindered potential to some degree. One of my goals is to create an environment in which attorneys wish to stay, grow and thrive professionally and personally. To that end, I am revamping the training provided to new attorneys and am mentoring our legal team to identify goals and find ways to achieve them. 

What was the biggest mistake of your professional life and how did you learn from it?

There is no single instance I would consider the biggest mistake of my career, but anyone who tries difficult cases sometimes loses. It is always painful to lose a case when you know the victim has faith in you. And each trial brings with it a different set of facts, obstacles, jurists and judges. Sometimes a combination of these leads to a verdict out of my control. However, in every case, whether I win or lose, I try to ask myself what I could have done differently, what I could have done better.

Therefore, I have never tried a case from which I did not learn something, and I doubt there will ever exist a trial that does not come with a lesson. I think it is my responsibility as district attorney to be open to this fact, receive feedback from anyone, and to continue learning and improving in this regard. This is why law is said to be a practice by its very nature.

What role should diversionary/pre-trial programs have in the prosecutors office? (Do we need more? Fewer? Different models?)

Lincoln County offers numerous diversionary/pre-trial programs. Diversion and treatment courts are available in some DUII and domestic violence cases. We also offer specialty courts for individuals dealing with addiction and mental health issues.

Defendants whose cases are diverted to these programs are monitored to ensure compliance. Failure to comply will result in conviction and, usually, incarceration. The goal of these programs is to address the underlying causes of criminal behavior. Obviously, if the underlying cause can be addressed, there is a lesser chance the person will commit additional crimes. Thus, the community is safer.

After I took office, I began implementing a pre-charging diversion program for certain low-level offenses committed by people who lack a lengthy history of criminal behavior. If the person pays restitution and undergoes treatment or community service, no criminal charge will be filed. If they do not comply, the charge is filed. The hope is to lessen the strain on the courts and to give the individual the benefit of not being charged with a crime if they deal with the issues that caused the behavior in the first place.

One specialty court we do not have, but need, is a veterans court. I plan to explore this possibility further. In my time representing indigent defendants, I met many veterans who suffered from mental health and substance abuse problems related to their service. We owe them help after the sacrifices they made for all of us.

How can a district attorney adapt to serving as the county’s chief law enforcement officer during a pandemic (or perhaps another emergency/disaster)? Are there adjustments to prosecutorial approach that should be made, or should external circumstances not be a factor?

The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique situation, which requires a lot of adaptation. As district attorney, I rely on everything I learned over the years and utilize the available experience within the office.

I know communication and coordination with our county leaders, courts, law enforcement and state officials are essential. Therefore, the relationships I built over the last 14 years in our community are more important than ever to successfully navigate these challenges. The pandemic created a fluid situation driven by the continuous dissemination of new information. This has pushed us to adapt in order to maintain public safety and provide the best service. To meet this new challenge, our employees took on new roles and learned new skills.

We manage staggered schedules to maintain as safe of an environment as possible. Two deputy district attorneys volunteered to assist with the county emergency management plan. And we are employing more technology to increase our ability to telecommute and handle remote testimony for certain hearings. 

However, nothing has changed regarding the evaluation of cases. And there are no changes to the immediate prosecution of domestic violence and serious crimes. The increase in domestic violence in Lincoln County, and worldwide, is of tremendous concern. While many cases have been rescheduled and other types delayed due to court availability, these cases will be addressed as soon as the situation allows.

We will be very busy. But we will adapt, especially in sight of looming and anticipated budgetary issues ahead.

Lanee Danforth

While district attorneys are obligated to follow written statute, they also have a great deal of discretion when it comes to how they apply it in each particular case. Do you have an overarching philosophy for practicing law as a prosecutor?

My overarching philosophy for practicing law as a prosecutor is to seek truth and pursue justice by supporting and upholding the U.S. and Oregon constitutions and the laws of the state of Oregon. I believe that prosecutors should be firm but fair. Prosecutors have an obligation to enforce the law, but we can do so in a way that is fair and just.

One way to ensure fairness is by having written policies that dictate how cases are handled in the district attorney’s office. Unlike the majority of DA’s offices in the state, we do not have policies regarding how cases should be charged and handled as they progress through the system. In fact, Lincoln County was the subject of discussion in the 2019 legislative session as being one of 15 counties in the state that did not have written policies. During that session, House Bill 3224 was passed. That law requires every DA’s office in the state to adopt written policies on over 20 different topic areas, including how cases are handled in the office. Those policies must be posted on the office website.  Additionally, they must be reviewed and updated every five years. 

Complying with the law by having written policies in place should be of the upmost importance to the district attorney. With written policies in place, we can move forward as an office that always seeks the truth and pursues justice while being transparent with the public about how we handle cases in the office.

Further to question one, how much discretion would you allow your deputies in prosecuting cases to which they are assigned?

I believe that in an office where deputy district attorneys are well trained, and there are written policies in place to ensure fairness and consistency (as referenced above), DDAs should be able to have discretion in how cases are handled within the parameters of the written policies. 

Unfortunately, the office isn’t at that point right now. Until those policies are written and implemented, and training has taken place, the chief deputy and/or the DA will review charging decisions, dismissals and plea offers on violent felony cases. The reason for that is to make sure that our office is being consistent and treating similarly situated people equally.  We owe it to defendants, victims, law enforcement and the community to so do.

What was the biggest mistake of your professional life and how did you learn from it?

Early on in my career I made a mistake that shaped the way I conduct every single trial I have done since and every future trial. I spent only a few moments preparing with a police officer before a DUII trial. While he was on the witness stand, I asked him a question that I didn’t ask him outside the courtroom. His answer was one I was not expecting and one that was not contained in his police report. His answer ended up sending the case in a direction I wasn’t prepared for. I realized it was 100 percent my fault. I was responsible for making sure both he and I were adequately prepared for court. I owed him an apology for putting him in a position where he didn’t know what to expect. I learned that no matter how busy I am or how long it takes, I need to spend time preparing every witness for trial.

Prosecutors make hundreds of decisions every week, which means sometimes mistakes will be made. If elected district attorney, I will cultivate an office where it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we acknowledge them, learn from them and more forward

What role should diversionary/pre-trial programs have in the prosecutors office? (Do we need more? Fewer? Different models?)

The county approved a pre-file program (offering alternative to prosecution) in 2016 that has yet to be implemented. I believe this will need a second look, as much has changed in the justice system and best practices as far as what is and what is not effective with first time, low-level offenders.

I am a huge proponent of treatment courts. I have seen how well they work and how they can and do reduce crime and save lives. We have several programs, including DUII diversion, drug court, HOPE court, mental health court and domestic violence court. HOPE court is similar to drug court except it is focused on property crimes that are fueled by drug addiction. What makes treatment programs work so well is the collaboration of community partners. Each treatment court (with the exception of DUII diversion) has a team of people who meet and discuss cases and the progress of participants.  The teams are typically comprised of a judge, a deputy district attorney, victim advocate, probation officer, treatment providers, etc. Great things happen when that many people pour their resources into a single individual in our community.  These programs work, and they should continue to be a priority in the district attorney’s office. I would like to seek grant funding for a “life coach” who works directly with participants. This position would walk alongside the participant and assist them with resume writing, applying and interviewing for jobs, earning a GED, getting a driver’s license, etc. 

How can a district attorney adapt to serving as the county’s chief law enforcement officer during a pandemic (or perhaps another emergency/disaster)? Are there adjustments to prosecutorial approach that should be made, or should external circumstances not be a factor?

The district attorney is still responsible for upholding and enforcing the law during a pandemic. As the top law enforcement official in the county, the district attorney’s job is to find a way to balance public health, public safety and justice. Justice requires that the district attorney find ways to ensure the criminal justice system can continue to function during a pandemic so that we preserve the rights of defendants, crime victims, and the community.

COVID-19 has not stopped the commission of crimes in our county, which means we must continue to hold grand jury proceedings. The governor’s executive order meant that the district attorney’s office needed to move the location of grand jury from a conference room to a courtroom to comply with social distancing. That required moving recording equipment. I was concerned about public safety, so I reached out to other counties and the state to get assistance in moving the recording equipment. We eventually worked with a tech from the state and got the equipment moved. It took more time and work, but the modification was necessary for the safety of our community.

 

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