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Today, the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center (OCVLC) announced it is the recipient of the inaugural Voices for Justice Award. The National Crime Victim Law Institute’s Voices for Justice Award recognizes individuals and organizations in Oregon who fight to ensure that victims' voices are heard in the justice system.
When receiving the news about the award, OCVLC Legal Director Rosemary Brewer said “OCVLC is honored to accept the Inaugural Voices for Justice Award. We strive to provide effective legal representation to crime victims throughout Oregon, to give victims a voice in the criminal justice process, and to provide support and assistance to those who find themselves in terrible circumstances. Protecting the rights of victims gives us all a more balanced legal system, and we are grateful to be recognized for our work.”
Founded in 2009 by prominent activists in the area of crime victims’ rights, including former Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, OCVLC is a Portland-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for crime victims to ensure their independent voices are heard and their legal rights are protected. In its five years of operations, OCVLC has provided free direct services to approximately 600 crime victims throughout Oregon. OCVLC has also helped raise awareness and understanding of crime victims’ rights by educating criminal justice professionals and community members and by promoting legislation geared toward keeping victims safe and creating a more equitable justice system.
The award will be formally presented at the National Crime Victim Law Institute’s Voices for Justice Reception and Award Ceremony. This event will be held tonight in Downtown Portland, and will feature Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum as the guest speaker and former Chief Justice Paul De Muniz as the emcee. Representing OCVLC will be members of its Board of Directors including President and Founder Steve Doell, Vice-President Shirley Didier, Secretary, Treasurer and Founder Erin K. Olson, Former President and Founder Hardy Myers, Member and Founder John Stein, and Member Peter Glazer. Also in attendance will be all three OCVLC staff members: Legal Director Rosemary Brewer, Administrative Director Cristina Damiani, and Staff Attorney Melanie Kebler.
On October 21 the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center assisted the family of George and Charmaine Meyers in persuading the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision to defer the projected release date of inmate Jon Johnston for at least another two years. Johnston was sentenced in March, 1992 to two terms of life in prison for the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Meyers.
In June of 1990, Jon Johnston and his co-defendant David Selders were stealing lights and batteries from road construction equipment in Umatilla County. Mr. and Mrs. Meyers drove up to the scene and stopped their vehicle. Johnston and Selders got into their truck and drove away, and the Meyers followed. As Selders and Johnston sped away, the truck went off the road and crashed. They got out of their truck as Mr. and Mrs. Meyers pulled off the road. The Meyers got out of their car, and Johnston, who was carrying a rifle, shot the unarmed Mr. Meyers in the head. Selders and Johnston then beat the couple, who were in their 60s, with rocks, and eventually shot them both numerous times, killing them. Selders and Johnston fled the scene and only turned themselves in several days later when it was apparent they were about to be arrested.
In his exit interview, Johnston blamed his behavior on Selders, saying he only shot Mr. Meyers because Selders told him too. He also blamed the Meyers themselves, saying he thought they might be armed since it was not uncommon for people in Eastern Oregon to carry firearms. (The Meyers had no weapons with them).
After considering testimony from Carlene San Martin, the Meyers' daughter, Rosemary Brewer, legal director of the OCVLC, and from Carine Jefferey, granddaughter of the victims, the Board, in a unanimous decision, found that the inmate has a present severe emotional disorder such that he would constitute a danger to the health and safety of the community, and that disorder cannot be sufficiently controlled. Johnston's new projected release date is December, 2016.
Daniel Primus, District Attorney of Umatilla County, also participated in the hearing.
The Oregon Crime Victims Law Center continues to work with victims in the post-conviction process of the criminal justice system.
In May 2014, Legal Director Rosemary Brewer represented the family of murder victim Erin Reynolds at the parole hearing of convicted murdered Conrad Engweiler. Ms. Brewer argued against Engweiler's release on behalf of Ms. Reynolds' brother. Also speaking at the hearing were Ms. Reynolds' parents, her sister, and brother. Deputy District Attorney Russ Ratto spoke on behalf of the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office. The Parole Board has continued the hearing until August to seek further information concerning the inmate.
A victim of domestic violence recently sought assistance from the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center to terminate her apartment lease early. Because she lived with her abuser, the victim needed to leave the apartment for her safety. The victim's landlord told her she would be required to pay a termination fee as well as several months rent before the lease would be terminated.
Under Oregon law, a domestic violence victim has the ability to terminate a lease without a termination fee if certain conditions are met. Legal Director Rosemary Brewer assisted the victim in getting her lease terminated with no penalty.
Minor victim of sexual asserts right to be consulted regarding plea and the right to be heard at sentencing
The Oregon Crime Victims Law Center continues to assist victims in asserting their rights in criminal cases.
Recently Legal Director Rosemary Brewer represented the family of a minor victim of sexual assault in asserting the right to consultation with the prosecutor regarding plea negotiations. Ms. Brewer was able to work with the victims and the prosecutor to craft sentencing recommendations that the family felt were necessary for the minor victim's safety. After a plea agreement was reached Ms. Brewer assisted the family in preparing their victim impact statements for the sentencing hearing.
A judge in Polk County denied a defense motion to subpoena a child victim's prior medical records after OCVLC Staff Attorney Melanie Kebler objected on behalf of the child victim and her mother. Ms. Kebler worked with the Deputy District Attorney handling the case, and both attorneys argued against the defense's request to reveal personal medical information in records unrelated to the charged crime. The judge agreed and the records were not released to either party.
OCVLC has represented victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in protective order proceedings in Multnomah County. Staff Attorney Melanie Kebler has helped victims through contested restraining order hearings, modification hearings, and renewal hearings. OCVLC has also assisted with one Sexual Abuse Protection Order, under the new Oregon law which took effect January 1, 2014. Many of these victims also require counsel and advice regarding a parallel criminal case, which OCVLC has been able to provide.
OCVLC represented a victim of sexual assault in both her civil restraining order case and the criminal case against her abuser. OCVLC Staff Attorney Melanie Kebler was able to successfully argue to the court that the restraining order deposition should be stayed while the criminal case was pending, which prevented the victim from going through the trauma of being interviewed by the defendant's attorney. In the criminal case, Ms. Kebler also argued against invasive subpoenas from the defense that requested the victim's counseling records, emails, and even information from OCVLC's own file. The case was ultimately resolved by a plea, and Ms. Kebler assisted the victim in asserting her right to be consulted, so that her input on the plea deal was considered by the District Attorney. The victim was able to give a statement to the judge at sentencing, with the support of OCVLC and advocates from Portland Police, the DA's Office, and Parole and Probation. OCVLC will continue to help this victim through the process of asking the sentencing judge to order the defendant to pay full restitution for the victim's past and future medical and counseling costs.
On February 18, 2014, the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision deferred the release date of inmate Dail Yates for a period of four years. In a unanimous decision, the Board found that Yates has a present severe emotional disturbance that cannot be sufficiently controlled to protect the health and safety of the community.
Yates pleaded guilty in 1990 for the murder of Shelley Elkins, 20, in Clackamas County. Ms. Elkins was the fiance of Yates' cousin, and was attacked by Yates in her home. After strangling Ms. Elkins to death, Yates called his mother, then held a gun and refused to allow police or medical personnel into the home for hours.
During lengthy questioning by the Board, Yates called the murder of Ms. Elkins "a bad choice" that he made. The Board found that Yates displayed a total lack of understanding why he committed the murder, and that he showed "no remorse or empathy" for the death of Ms. Elkins. Board member Sid Thompson said he was struck by how "cold and emotionless" Yates was as he described killing Ms. Elkins.
Yates' release was opposed by the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office, represented by Bill Stewart, as well as by Ms. Elkins' sister, mother, father, other family members, and friends of the family. Rosemary Brewer, Legal Director of the OCVLC, argued against Yates' release on behalf of Ms. Elkins' father.
As a nonprofit focused on providing no cost legal services to crime victims, the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center (OCVLC) has been busy the past few months providing a variety of services to crime victims of all types and from areas around the state.
In Columbia County, OCVLC successfully helped a child sex abuse victim and her family assert their right to a speedy trial in a case that had been pending since 2012. After OCVLC got involved, no further continuances were requested and the defendant ultimately settled the case through a plea deal.
In Clackamas County, OCVLC agreed to help a stalking victim with the legal issue of clarifying her Stalking Protective Order, originally granted in 2001. Since that time, due to court error on the original judgment, it had become unclear whether the order was permanent and should be entered into law enforcement databases. OCVLC filed a motion to correct the judgment on the victim’s behalf, and the Court granted the motion and signed a new, corrected, permanent Stalking Protective Order.
In Clatsop County, OCVLC attorneys were able to persuade the court to seal the testimony of the victim in a rape case after the victim discovered that a person not associated with the case was attempting to get a copy of it. Upon a showing of good cause to seal the records, the court agreed that the victim would only be "re-victimized" were the testimony to be released.
Finally in Multnomah County, a crime victim who had also obtained a restraining order requested help with an upcoming contested restraining order. OCVLC represented the victim in the restraining order case and also helped the victim through the process of the defendant pleading guilty in the criminal case, by helping her assert her right to speak at that critical stage hearing. After pleading guilty, the defendant withdrew his request for a contested restraining order hearing.
OCVLC has once again prevented the pretrial release of a victim’s private records, challenging invasive defense subpoenas in a child sex abuse case.
In December 2013 and January 2014, a Klamath County Circuit Court judge quashed two rounds of defense subpoenas seeking personal medical and counseling records of a minor sex abuse victim. OCVLC stepped in on behalf of the victim and asked the court not to allow the defendant to abuse the subpoena process to go on a “fishing expedition” for information about the victim’s past. OCVLC argued that the defendant had not made a sufficient showing that the records were material and favorable to the defense, and therefore those records had been inappropriately subpoenaed prior to trial. The Court agreed with OCVLC’s arguments and quashed the subpoenas, allowing the defendant only the ability to subpoena the records directly to trial, where the Court would then require a threshold showing by the defense before reviewing any of the records.
On January 22, 2014 the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center (OCVLC) helped to persuade the Oregon Board of Parole and Post Prison Supervision that an inmate who bludgeoned and strangled a Portland man to death in 1987 should serve at least another two years in prison. Scott Wickee, along with co-defendant Kevin Roper, were found guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Board member Candace Wheeler told Wickee that he "continues to minimize" his role in the murder of Eddie Lee "Bobby" Gibbs. "You seem to just feel sorry for yourself," Wheeler noted. The Board set a new potential release date of April 2016.
The Board unanimously found that Wickee has a "present severe emotional disturbance that would make (him) a danger to the community if released." In his description of the murder of Mr. Gibbs, Wickee downplayed his role, and claimed that he never expected the murder to happen, despite evidence of significant planning in advance by Wickee and Roper.
Wickee's release was opposed by Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Amity Girt, as well as Mr. Gibbs' mother, sister, and brother. Rosemary Brewer, Legal Director of the OCVLC, argued on behalf of Mr. Gibbs' brother-in-law, Dennis Doern.
We are excited to announce that the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center has moved to a new location!
Our new physical/mailing address is:
7412 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy
Portland, OR 97225
The new office is in an accessible and desirable location for our clients, attorneys and professional staff. It is close to major highways and public transportation, and, unlike our previous downtown location, it offers free parking!
Photo of our new building, courtesy of American Property Management.
We are pleased to announce the hire of Melanie Kebler as our new staff attorney. Melanie spent four years as a prosecutor in both Lincoln and Yamhill Counties, focusing on crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault. Throughout her career as a prosecutor, Melanie worked closely with victims and victim advocates to ensure that crime victims understood the criminal justice system and were treated fairly within it. She also worked hard to achieve just results in each criminal case, to hold offenders accountable, and to achieve protection and restitution for victims.
As a staff attorney for OCVLC, Melanie will be handling cases involving victims of any crime around the state. We are confident she will continue to uphold the OCVLC’s standard of providing expert, no-cost legal representation that clients of OCVLC have come to expect. Prior to attending law school at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Melanie graduated from the University of Michigan in 2005. She joins legal director Rosemary Brewer and administrative director and victim advocate Cristina Damiani.