DA Josh Marquis Attacks Russ Belville Over Open Records Requests
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis of Astoria, Oregon, is none too happy about citizens like me poking around in his public records. Now DA Marquis, the de facto spokesperson for law enforcement’s opposition to Oregon’s Measure 91, our marijuana legalization initiative, is trying to intimidate me into ceasing my investigation into misuse of federal grant money and county resources to plan, produce, promote, and present so-called “educational events” that only occur when marijuana legalization is on the ballot.
Yesterday I learned that DA Marquis has filed a complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office regarding my fundraising for this investigation. I have created an online fundraiser at http://gofundme.com/fightsabet to raise $5,000 for the fees that five counties will charge me for Oregon Open Records Requests. I’ve made requests for these counties’ district attorney’s and drug prevention coordinator’s emails concerning the planning of the Oregon Marijuana Education Summit & Tour featuring my nemesis, Kevin Sabet. Knowing Sabet’s anti-legalization marketing campaign like I do, I knew that this “education” would consist of scaremongering, half-truths, and obfuscations intended to produce doubt among Oregon voters who are predicted to pass Measure 91.
DA Marquis’ complaint is frivolous, but it is a significant reaction to the headway I have been making in this investigation. He claims that requesting these records is a pro-Measure 91 activity that should require me to form an official political action committee (PAC) and disclose my fundraising as political activity. He further wishes me to disclose my funders, which is odd considering most of them are already publicly listed on the GoFundMe site and the few anonymous donors (1 x $500, 3 x $100, 4 x $50, 1 x $35, 1 x $25 = 10 donations for $1,060 of 34 total for $2,735 raised as of now, $1,840 already spent for requests in three counties, two counties remaining) are citizens with no ties to any public funds or Measure 91 campaign resources whatsoever.
While I am stridently pro-marijuana legalization, I am also firmly pro-free-and-fair-elections and anti-district-attorneys-breaking-the-law. While the chief petitioner of Measure 91 is a personal friend of mine, I do not work for the Measure 91 campaign and I am not funded by the Measure 91 campaign. If someone can show me that public officials have been using public money to produce educational materials and events promoting Measure 91, I’ll be happy to investigate that, too.
What I am is a private citizen raising private donations for seeking records any citizen is entitled to review by law. That’s not pro-Measure 91, that’s pro-First Amendment. What does DA Josh Marquis have against government transparency? And as intimidation tactics go, it seems moot, since even if it is upheld, I would just register and disclose everything with the Secretary of State and continue with the requests.
DA Marquis’ filing of this complaint comes a day after I have sent letters and documentation to the Oregon Secretary of State, Oregon Attorney General, and US Congressman Earl Blumenauer (my representative) detailing what I believe to be significant violations of ethics and the law by Marquis and other Oregon county officials involved with both the 2014 and 2012 versions of this Oregon Marijuana Education Summit, and Congressman Blumenauer seems to agree with me. I had emailed those as PDFs as well and cc’ed the Clatsop County Community Relations Coordinator, Tom Bennett, who’s been dealing with my requests. Do you think perhaps Bennett let DA Marquis know I was calling in state officials and a US Congressman for help?
Worse, DA Marquis’ latest attempt at intimidating me comes on the heels of my latest request for emails from private Gmail accounts I believe DA Marquis and DA Leriche in Jefferson County may have been using for official business in order to circumvent the Oregon Open Records Law. What could be so sensitive to DA Josh Marquis and DA Steven Leriche in those Gmail accounts that has gotten me two rejection emails from the Clatsop County Community Relations Coordinator so far and this specious complaint to the Secretary of State?
If these Gmail accounts – email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org – are being used for official public business, they are then subject to the Open Records Law. It seems that DA Marquis is well aware of that. In an email dated August 30, four days after I sent my records requests to both Clatsop and Jefferson Counties, DA Marquis uses the email@example.com account to contact an unknown recipient, presumably the coordinator of the Summit & Tour. In it, DA Marquis explains “Both Steve Leriche and I have received very invasive and harassing demands for ALL our emails, phone calls, even websites visited,” and follows that up with “NOW Steve has a “private” email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. He, meaning well, asked me about INVITING the loon who sent the demand as, Russ Belville, to be a presenter. I told him I thought it was a VERY bad idea.” Why would DA Leriche “NOW” need a private email address after I had made records requests for his official county emails? And why is a citizen who seeks public records considered a “loon”?
This is not DA Marquis’ first attempt to intimidate me. I first filed my requests on August 26 to the County Clerk, five days after I had learned Sabet would be coming to town to reprieve the Summit that in 2012 was very clearly anti-Measure 80 (our 2012 measure to legalize marijuana that failed) and very clearly funded by public money. The very next day, DA Marquis himself called me directly. I don’t know if this is standard procedure; these are the first records requests I have ever made. In fact, my first requests were federal Freedom of Information Act requests because I didn’t even know there was a state-level version for Oregon (learn more at http://open-oregon.com).
I found it a bit intimidating that the man I’m investigating for his possible breaches of ethics and the law was calling me about my investigation. I was even more intimidated as DA Marquis repeatedly prefaced his remarks with “As a lawyer…” and explained to me how he would be the one making the decisions as to which of his emails I could review. I took those concerns to the County Manager, Scott Somers, in an email on September 2, asking if he, rather than DA Marquis, could be in charge of determining which of DA Marquis’ emails I would receive.
This earned me an email reply from DA Marquis, using his county co.clatsop.or.us email address, sent just 33 minutes after I sent the email to Mr. Somers. “I doubt you would be intimidated by anything I could say and I frankly consider this request harassment,” DA Marquis wrote to me. Now why would an elected official consider an Open Records Request “harassment” at the same time he is telling me “I foolishly attempted to expedite your non-request. (The “FOIA” does not apply to state agencies,)”?
This began a series of back-and-forth emails between me and DA Marquis, which eventually led to him ordering me, through his county email address, not to contact him anymore. I did respond to both his county and his Gmail address expressing my belief that I can’t be ordered to not email a public official on a public email address (at least, not without a court judging that it’s harassment). He responded to me with the email@example.com account I’ve made the latest records request over. “If weed makes people as mean and crazy as you, I’ve seriously underestimated it’s dangers,” DA Marquis told me. In our back-and-forth I did accuse him of cannabis bigotry, using public resources to lobby against Measure 91, and violating the law, but I don’t think I wrote anything mean and crazy. Sarcastic and snarky, perhaps…
Since local media began digging into the political nature of these “educational” events, the promoters have been scrambling to replace all the public funding they had counted on with private donations, including $10,000 from the Oregon Sheriffs Association that DA Leriche seems to have raised during work hours from his county office. But the advertising and coordination of the 2014 event may have already used public resources. BestCare Prevention, a federal grant recipient, and members of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission withdrew from the event once the Oregon Health Authority sent notice it was clearly a political event against Measure 91. The materials for the 2014 event were produced by county employees in coordination with Kevin Sabet based on their work at the 2012 event that was openly exhorting “no” votes on Measure 80 and made no attempt to hide its use of public resources.
So what does DA Josh Marquis have to hide? If it is just an “educational” event and nobody’s misused any public funds, he should welcome disclosure of his emails. If there’s nothing damning about his use of a Gmail account to conduct public business, why retaliate with an elections complaint against me? There’s something fishy going on in Astoria and it’s not the delicious seafood.