Amanda Marshall is approaching two years on the job as U.S. Attorney for Oregon. She was not well-known at the federal courthouse in 2010 when she was nominated for the job by President Obama.
But she’s won some allies among regional public safety professionals.
Marshall announced her interest in the U.S. attorney’s job via a Facebook page four years ago. Looking back, she says there was a learning curve.
“I mean it’s certainly a very quick upward trajectory,” Marshall says.
When Marshall emerged as a candidate for the job, a lot of people in the federal legal community didn’t know her at all.
Legal circles tend to be pretty tight, but Marshall’s background at the Oregon Department of Justice’s Child Advocacy section in Salem had her moving in different circles than the attorneys and judges who populate the elite federal court system.
She grew up the child of a free-spirited single mom in Northern California. The family didn’t have a lot of resources. She attended the University of Oregon and married her college sweetheart.
After law school, Marshall worked as a prosecutor in Coos County.
When the federal job came up, questions were raised about her experience.
Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley has known Marshall for many years.
“When she first was appointed, I was happy for her. I was concerned for her being as young as she was,” Nisley remembers.
Her last job was managing attorneys with the child advocacy unit, and she’d only held that job for a few months before her Senate confirmation came through. But Nisley says Marshall has deeply impressed him with how she’s handled the U.S. attorney position.
Marshall acknowledges she had to get up to speed.
“It felt different coming in, mainly because it was foreign, but I think I’d been well-prepared in the state system in the sense that I appeared in 26 counties in Oregon in court representing the state. I had the ability to adapt. I was pretty open to being flexible,” says Marshall.
Even if Marshall didn’t know each sheriff or police chief in the state when she took office, she certainly knew about their towns and the challenges they were dealing with.
Her predecessors had already established a track record of collaboration with local officials on some issues like drug trafficking. Marshall has played a key role in a regional effort to prioritize child sex trafficking.
She says she’s proud her office is overseeing more indictments than in prior years. Prosecutors take an aggressive approach to seek full penalties for people convicted of trafficking crimes.
She’s convened discussions on gun violence in the wake of Clackamas Town Center shooting, overseen staff trying a big terrorism case, stepped up prosecutions in Indian Country, and turned up at gang violence events in Portland.
Speaking at an event last summer Marshall’s remarks included a nod to her experience in child advocacy.
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. It’s only when we all work together, with the same goal of keeping kids safe and out of gangs that we truly are successful,” Marshall said.
But it’s her willingness to get outside of the metro area that has won over some of Marshall’s biggest fans.
Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan is president of the Oregon D.A.’s Association appreciates Marshall’s efforts to reach out to rural Oregon.
“Any U.S. attorney who will take the time and travel all the way to Burns, Oregon to discuss an issue that really only concerned our local community, I have nothing but good to say about. That’s exactly what Amanda did,” Colahan said.
Marshall made a trip with key staffers to the authority of tribal officers to work off the reservation.
Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett says Marshall has been a presence on a number of other issues of concern to local law enforcement.
“After sheriffs fielded complaints from constituents about Forest Service closures and some related issues, she arranged a meeting among sheriffs and the Forest Service. She has not wasted any time being valuable at a local level,” Garrett says.
Marshall has made only one court appearance as U.S. Attorney, in the course of the Portland Police Bureau’s negotiations with the Department Of Justice over its treatment of people with mental health problems.
Being U.S. Attorney is an administrative job, that involves supervising more than 100 lawyers. Marshall’s management has changed little about the way the DOJ’s Oregon office operates.
If you’re at the courthouse around noontime, you might catch Marshall squeezing in a 30-minute meeting with time-strapped colleagues who are runners, like her, by taking a few laps around downtown.
She regularly stops in to hear verdicts on important cases, but a number of attorneys in the federal system say they’ve never met her.
Mark Cross is a criminal defense attorney in Oregon City whose practice involves many federal cases. He is concerned about the zeal U.S. attorneys under Marshall have shown pursuing sex trafficking cases.
He feels the effort to charge aggressively and seek longer sentences has led to the imprisonment of what he calls, “the weakest and stupidest of criminals.” Cross notes one man he represented on sex trafficking charges had actually placed the call to police that led to his arrest.
“I guess you have to strike where you can. Were it up to me, I think there should be a level of judgment involved as to what we should be doing with increasingly limited resources,” Cross says.
Marshall says she’s proud of the work her attorneys have done on sex trafficking cases.
And limited resources are on her mind.
A hiring freeze is in effect. She says travel, training money, salary bumps and cost-of-living increases aren’t happening. Nine contract support workers have been laid off.
Marshall has avoided layoffs, despite impending cuts set into motion by federal sequestration. But she knows fiscal year 2014 will likely mean more reductions, probably through furloughs.
Marshall oversaw furloughs at the state level back in 2010-2011 fiscal year.
“I got to tell you. Sometimes I think I bring this with me. It’s deja vu in a sense. It will benefit me that I’ve had the experience of doing this before. It is complicated to implement furloughs, especially with attorneys,” Marshall says.
Marshall sees it as her job to figure out how to work with what she has, and where to target resources so they’ll do the most good.
Amanda Marshall will join OPB’s Think Out Loud for a special edition of the program at the City Club of Portland. Tune in at noontime today to hear it.