Oregon’s attorney general won’t appeal a circuit court decision in the case of Ana del Rocío after a judge ruled her constitutional rights were violated when she was stopped by a TriMet employee during a fare evasion inspection.
The September ruling by Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge John A. Wittmayer came in the case of Ana del Rocío, a David Douglas School Board member who the court ruled was stopped without cause during a fare evasion inspection by a TriMet employee and Portland police officer in March.
Lawyers say Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s decision not to take the case to the Court of Appeals could mean that the case will miss an opportunity to become legally binding at the state level. But they also say it signals buy-in from the state’s top prosecutor.
“I think the attorney general has said, ‘We’re not going to waste any more time or taxpayer money fighting about it because we like this decision, and it works for us,’” said Noah Horst, the attorney who represented del Rocío in her case through the ACLU of Oregon.
TriMet has said it will continue fare enforcement activities. The agency has also said it has modified those policies to satisfy the judge’s concerns over searches “without individualized suspicion.”
TriMet’s Board of Directors also plans to consider a revision to TriMet’s code, which the agency said clearly details the transit agency’s existing authority to require and inspect fares.
“The ordinance, which will be presented to the board next week, clarifies that TriMet does have the authority to require riders of our transit system to show they have paid their fare when requested by a TriMet inspector or police officer,” said Roberta Altstadt, a spokesperson with TriMet.
The Attorney General’s Office said state appeals are discretionary, and that there are a number of factors that go into deciding whether to appeal a case. Its chance at success in the court of appeals is one of them.
“It carries more weight if this was fought in the Court of Appeals and is upheld in the court of appeals,” Horst said. “That would mean lawyers at the trial level all around the state can cite it at precedent – and precedent is binding. But right now in Multnomah County, this is the rule.”
TriMet says the ruling is not binding on any other circuit court judge.
Democratic state lawmakers joined the chorus of opposition to the agency’s fare enforcement policies in a letter to Rosenblum, requesting she let the court ruling stand. In the letter, the lawmakers argued TriMet’s fare enforcement activities exacerbate disparities in the criminal justice system for people of color, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness.
“This fight was never about me,” del Rocío told OPB. “It was about all of the people who have been unjustly harmed by TriMet’s unconstitutional enforcement practices. Attorney General Rosenblum made the right decision. The focus now should be on our continual efforts to make transit more accessible to people who depend on it. And my focus personally will be on putting this nightmare behind me, so that I can get back to my children and my work serving this community.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that TriMet was not a party in the case.