Judge halts parole board hearings for juvenile offenders commuted by Oregon governor


A judge’s order has halted parole board hearings for dozens of cases in which Gov. Kate Brown used her clemency powers but did not accept arguments that the governor failed to follow the correct process.

Marion County Circuit Court Judge David Leith found the governor incorrectly applied a juvenile justice reform law retroactively when Brown directed the state’s parole board to consider commuting sentences of dozens of people who were convicted as adults while they were juveniles. The governor specifically cited the law, which impacts sentencing for youths, when she announced the use of clemency powers for more than 70 individuals in late 2021, and a handful of individuals challenged her use of those powers in a lawsuit filed in January.

Leith wrote while the governor’s clemency powers are broad, they don’t give the parole board “authority to provide parole hearings and consider sentence reduction for offenders who were found guilty of offenses while they were juveniles, but whose offenses are not within the prospective scope” of the law passed in 2019.

He did not rule in favor of Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow, Linn County DA Douglas Marteeny and four surviving victims on other arguments in their lawsuit, which argued Brown violated clemency laws by failing to notify district attorneys so the DA can notify the victim and provide specific information to the governor.

Lawsuit filed: Lane County DA among group suing Oregon governor for ignoring victim rights while granting clemency

Leith emphasizes in the ruling that his decision does not limit or impact any of the governor’s powers.

His ruling came as 73 inmates who were juveniles convicted as adults before Jan. 1, 2020, were expected to request parole board hearings for a possible early release.

Brown announced in October 2021 that she was using her clemency powers to let those inmates benefit from Oregon Senate Bill 1008, which reforms the juvenile justice system. Among other things, the bill eliminates life without parole sentences for youths and gives them a “second look” hearing for a possible release after serving half their sentence. It’s also intended to correct any unjust lengthy sentences.

Several Oregon district attorneys, including Perlow, criticized Brown for not notifying victims or their families before publicly releasing the inmates’ names.

Perlow and Marteeny then joined with surviving family members of some victims to ask Leith to compel Brown, the Oregon Department of Corrections, the Oregon Youth Authority and the state’s parole board to “comply with the law.”

Plaintiffs argued inmates must apply for clemency and almost none of the dozens granted clemency in October had applied.

They also argued Brown:

  • Failed to notify district attorneys as required
  • Improperly delegated her clemency power to the Department of Corrections and the parole board
  • Has broad clemency powers subject to regulation and has “abandoned all clemency process and procedure as required by law”
  • Unlawfully extended her clemency powers because some of the inmates won’t be eligible until after she leaves office. Brown already has announced she isn’t running for governor again.
  • “Refused to involve victims” in the process as required by law
  • Made Senate Bill 1008 retroactive when she doesn’t have authority to do so
  • Has illustrated her “willingness to act outside the restrictions on her clemency power.”

Leith only sided with the argument that Brown didn’t have the authority to apply Senate Bill 1008 retroactively.

He said inmates are not required to apply because “nothing in the language of the statute requires an application before the Governor may exercise her power.”

DAs respond: Lane County DA says governor’s youth prison clemency announcement ignored victim impact

Leith also wrote the process of notifying district attorneys and more only applies under the law when inmates do apply and that those rules “do not apply where the clemency action is self-initiated by the Governor or her administration, without an application.”

Kevin Mannix, the lead plaintiff attorney, said while the ruling is a victory because it means the parole board can’t shorten sentenced for “250 violent criminals,” he is “disappointed that the Governor is allowed to ignore the voice of crime victims and District Attorneys in the clemency process.”

“If the state appeals, we will cross-appeal to defend what we have won and to continue to push for the right of victims and District Attorneys to be heard in the clemency process,” Mannix said in a statement.

Attorneys for Brown and other state parties already have indicated in legal filings that they plan to appeal the ruling.

Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at mbanta@registerguard.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Attorney: Judge’s ruling a win in challenge to Brown’s clemency powers