<<The number of defendants held in Oregon jails without legal representation has tripled within the past two months.
As of Thursday, 77 defendants are languishing behind bars – their criminal cases at a standstill – because there are no public defenders available to represent them. The longest a defendant has been jailed without a lawyer in Multnomah County is five months – and counting.
“It’s unacceptable that we’re holding people in jail without attorneys, but we are. We are in that position,” said Cheryl Albrecht, Multnomah County Circuit Court’s chief criminal judge.
Albrecht is one in a chorus – judges, public defenders and prosecutors alike – who are sounding alarms over this constitutional conundrum: How long is too long to keep defendants locked up without lawyers?
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Oregon Constitution guarantee defendants who are facing jail or prison time the right to an attorney, even if they can’t afford one. But the founding documents offer no clear guidance about what should happen when the government can’t find available public defenders to take on the job.
Long-time Portland defense attorney Russell Barnett said he knows of no Oregon case law “that says after so long without an attorney, you need to let someone go.”
“Obviously, my defense lawyer heart says that any time without an attorney is too long,” Barnett continued. “But the practical side also realizes that there are people charged with murder, attempted murder, sex cases that – for a variety of reasons – it’s not in the public interest that they be released.”
By far, most of the 77 defendants jailed without legal representation are in the state’s two most populous counties, Multnomah and Washington, which face the most pressing shortages of public defenders. Most are charged with very serious crimes — shootings, stabbings, murders and rapes – and likely would remain in jail even if they had lawyers. But a small number are accused of less violent offenses, including a man who’s been locked up in Washington County jail for the last six weeks on charges of assaulting a public safety officer and providing false information, crimes that might not even net a jail sentence upon conviction.
For most jailed defendants, the lack of court-appointed counsel creates longer waits until their cases can go to trial – or they can negotiate plea deals. Some might ultimately be found not guilty, and the time in jail without a lawyer is time they needn’t have been incarcerated.
Defense lawyers also point out that with no public defender working those cases, valuable evidence theoretically could be lost or erased, such as surveillance video that could undermine the prosecution’s case.
A class-action lawsuit filed in Multnomah County in October is asking a judge to address the constitutionality of the shortage – by ordering that all Oregon defendants who can’t afford representation be appointed public defenders “within a reasonable time” or see their cases dismissed.
Last month, Washington County Presiding Judge Kathleen Proctor told a state commission tasked with helping solve the crisis that she feels “anxious and kind of sick” before starting hearings where she knows she’ll have to tell jailed defendants she still doesn’t have attorneys to assign them.
“Some people get really upset and frustrated and it upsets me and frustrates me, too,” Proctor said. “I’d like to think I could just release these people since they don’t have an attorney … but I can’t justify doing that.”
“Of course,” Proctor added, “if it goes on for too long, that’s a situation we’re going to be in. That’s going to imperil the safety of our community, potentially.”
The crisis has been brewing for decades, but it has intensified in the last few years as public defenders have pushed back against uncompetitive pay and unwieldy caseloads. A significant portion of lawyers who started their careers in public defense have left for more lucrative jobs after short stints on the job. Many critics say fixing the problem will require an overhaul of the system – some argue by hiring public defenders not through individual contracts but as full-fledged government employees, as many states do, and paying them on par with prosecutors.
The crisis reached a tipping point last year, when about 10 of Oregon’s 36 counties found themselves routinely short of public defenders.
Of the 77 jailed defendants on Thursday, nearly 90% were facing charges from Multnomah and Washington counties. As they wait for attorneys to free up, some have tried to represent themselves by asking judges to throw out their cases in handwritten motions, to no avail. At least one Multnomah County defendant plans to represent himself at trial for crimes that could net him a minimum of 25 years in prison.
Aside from jailed defendants, a much larger number of Oregon defendants who aren’t being held in custody are also awaiting court-appointed counsel. That number stands at close to 600, with nearly 90% of those defendants also from the state’s two largest counties. These defendants are generally charged with far less serious crimes than those who are jailed, including car theft, identity theft, shoplifting, lower-level assaults and intoxicated driving. Returning to court over and over again to learn if they’ve been assigned lawyers often requires taking time off from work and can result in new criminal charges of failure to appear if they miss a court date.
Drumming up public outrage and calls for change over the constitutional rights of defendants has been tough. Public defenders say even clients charged with horrendous acts deserve vigorous representation.
“The accused have rights, and that’s a hard public sell,” said Barnett, the defense lawyer who has represented defendants accused of the most serious crimes, including murder, through public defense contracts with the state. “The public says ‘Well, they got themselves into this position in the first place.’”
Many of the 77 defendants jailed without representation were originally assigned public defenders but a judge agreed to remove them because those defenders discovered conflicts of interest, such as already representing another client with opposing interests. Or often, defendants may need a new lawyer because attorney-client relations with their existing ones have broken down. In some cases, that’s happened multiple times.>>
<<Two years after a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, federal prosecutors are still working their way through hundreds of cases. More than 950 people have been arrested in connection with the January 6 attack, according to the U.S. Department of Justice — including nine people from Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Jeff Grace of Battle Ground and his son, Jeremy Grace were seen in photos posing together inside the U.S. Capitol building.
In July, Jeremy Grace pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and was sentenced to 21 days in prison and supervised release.
His father, Jeff Grace is awaiting federal trial. In December, Grace requested a new defense lawyer. A federal judge had ordered Grace to give up his guns while awaiting trial after he participated in violent clashes with counter-protesters in downtown Portland and traveled to El Paso, Texas. Since then, Grace has complained in videos posted on social media that the Justice Department is treating him unfairly.
Jeffrey Hubbard of Lincoln City pleaded guilty in November to one count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building. Hubbard was captured on surveillance video storming the Capitol on January 6th.
He will be sentenced in February.
The FBI used surveillance and body-worn camera footage to help identify a 63-year-old Hillsboro man. Reed Christensen is facing multiple charges in connection with the takeover of the Capitol after allegedly striking and pushing officers.
The U.S. Army veteran and former Intel employee is scheduled to go to trial in April.
Two Oregon brothers, Matthew and Jonathanpeter Klein, are facing multiple federal charges for their involvement in the insurrection.
Photos provided by the Department of Justice show the Kleins inside the Capitol building on January 6th. According to court papers, Jonathanpeter Klein is a self-identified member of the far-right Proud Boys. The Klein brothers pleaded not guilty. A federal judge has modified release conditions allowing the Klein brothers to move throughout the state of Oregon while awaiting trial.
Within the first couple weeks of the insurrection, the FBI’s Portland office received multiple tips claiming Lilith Saer had participated in the riot. The tips included photos and video on social media that appear to show Saer inside the Capitol building with bright blue hair and distinctive facial piercings, court documents said. Several of the images were shared on Twitter by known left-wing activists in the Portland area.
On June 24, a federal judge signed a criminal complaint against Saer, charging her with entering a restricted building with the intent to disrupt an official proceeding and disorderly or disruptive conduct inside the Capitol building. Both are misdemeanor charges. Saer was taken into custody on July 7 and is currently awaiting trial.
Federal prosecutors also relied on images taken from videos and social media to help build a case against Richard Harris. He’s facing various charges related to the insurrection, including assaulting an officer.
The former Amazon worker agreed to live at his father’s home in Happy Valley while awaiting trial.
Tipsters alerted the FBI about Marc Bru of Vancouver. He’s accused of breaching the US Capitol. Court papers included photos of the Washington man pushing past law enforcement and entering the Senate Gallery. Bru is schedule to go to trial in April.>>
<<A homeless man was shot and his tent set on fire in North Portland on Thursday, police said.
Officers responded to the shooting Thursday at about 11:45 a.m. in the 3300 block of North Interstate Avenue, where they gave first aid to the wounded man. They noticed a tent aflame nearby; firefighters soon arrived to extinguish it.
The shooter apparently fled the scene before police arrived; no arrests were made, police said. The victim was taken to a hospital with serious injuries but is expected to survive.>>
<<A man was seriously injured Thursday morning after someone shot him and lit his tent on fire, according to the Portland Police Bureau.
At 11:42 a.m., officers responded to a report of a shooting on North Interstate Avenue. They found the man shot and the tent on fire.
Portland Fire and Rescue put out the fire and the man was taken to the hospital. He is expected to recover.
The suspect left the scene before police arrived and no arrests were made.>>