By Pat Caldwell
VALE – The case seemed cut and dried for Nyssa Police Chief Ray Rau.
His officers had arrested 19-year-old Christian Ramirez, suspected of assaulting his mother and taking $300. But Rau needed immediate guidance on the state’s search-and-seizure law. Rau dialed the cell number for Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney. Goldthorpe picked up after a few rings. Rau wasn’t surprised.
“Every time we call he answers,” said Rau.
That’s a big deal for Rau.
“When there is a question on a case. I want the district attorney to talk to. He is there. He answers the phone,” said Rau.
Such accessibility has become a hallmark of Goldthorpe’s tenure. He stepped into the role a year ago, replacing Dan Norris. He said he plans to run for a second term as district attorney and, so far, no one has filed to challenge him.
Reflecting on his first year, Goldthorpe said accessibility was vital.
“I think it is my job. I don’t know what else an elected district attorney is supposed to be other than a resource for the community,” said Goldthorpe.
A former Clatsop County deputy district attorney, Goldthorpe was appointed by Gov. Kate Brown to the Malheur County slot in December 2016 and he took office the following month.
“If something went down bad with law enforcement, I want to be able to say I was available to help. I want to make sure things are handled right,” said Goldthorpe.
A distinctive role
The job of district attorney is important in ways the public might not understand, said Goldthorpe.
“My personal belief is that the position that makes the biggest difference in the justice system is the local DA,” said Goldthorpe.
That’s because, he said, a district attorney in Oregon has flexibility.
“The prosecutor is one of the only ones in the system that has the discretion and can do what they believe is best for the community,” said Goldthorpe.
That means, he said, factoring in extenuating circumstances on a case.
“You don’t have to always hold defendants accountable to the fullest extent of the law. You can decide what you are offering pretrial and make that work for the betterment of the community. You are the only one that has that discretion. The defense attorney can’t do it and the judge can’t do it,” said Goldthorpe.
A good example of that flexibility – and a major change he instituted — is a little-known Oregon law that Goldthorpe applied.
The law allows Goldthorpe to defer a misdemeanor conviction for a first-time offender. That individual is instead placed on probation and a guilty judgment doesn’t appear on their record. However, a failure to fulfill the requirements of the probation means the conviction will go on the record.
“I like it because it gives you the opportunity to use that discretion for a first-time offender. I think that it is for the betterment of the community as a whole, but especially for our young people,” said Goldthorpe.
Goldthorpe, 36, said he focuses on being approachable and compassionate.
“You have to have a measure of that to allow you to use that discretion. Whether it is my employees, police or victims of crime, I think everyone feels they can come talk to me,” said Goldthorpe.
Brian Wolfe, Malheur County sheriff, said Goldthorpe’s compassion is evident.
“He cares for the victims of crimes. And he has been very responsive to the needs of law enforcement and the sheriff’s office in Malheur County,” said Wolfe.
Goldthorpe said one goal for his second year will be to hire another deputy. Now, three deputies work for Goldthorpe.
A fourth deputy would make a difference in the workload, said Goldthorpe. Goldthorpe said his office still prosecutes the same number of cases as in the past and he manages about 40 cases now.
“My deputies all have over 100. That’s a constant number,” said Goldthorpe.
Another goal, he said, would be to resolve three aggravated murders cases at Snake River Correctional Institution.
“They’ve been around for years so we’d just like to get them concluded for the victim’s families and for the prison system,” said Goldthorpe.
Working together works
Goldthorpe’s chief deputy, Brendan Alexander, said Goldthorpe’s emphasis on communication within the office and with local police agencies is central to his success.
“It is easy not to have communication. You have a sheriff’s office, the state police, so you can get a lot of interagency rivalries that can go on,” said Alexander
However, turf battles aren’t a problem said, Alexander.
“Dave has really stressed communication to the benefit of all. Teamwork is really being emphasized. And he has a good combination of experience and legal intelligence,” said Alexander.
Malheur County Circuit Judge Lung Hung, the presiding judge, said Goldthorpe’s accessibility is valuable for the local justice system.
“From my point of view, it isn’t one of those things where I have to call his staff and set up a meeting,” said Hung.
If issues to crop up, said Hung, Goldthorpe works to solve them quickly.
“He gets to the point and there isn’t any gamesmanship,” said Hung.
Close to home
Goldthorpe said he wanted to become district attorney in Malheur County so he could be closer to his family.
Goldthorpe was born and raised in Meridian. His parents still live there as does his wife’s family.
Goldthorpe said he didn’t always intend to go into law.
“I knew I wanted to be a good provider for my family. That was a value instilled in me early on by my parents,” said Goldthorpe.
He was in Italy on a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission when the idea to become a lawyer took hold.
“One of my supervisors was by trade an attorney. When we would talk about a career and a future, it seemed like a good field, or something I could do,” said Goldthorpe.
Still, Goldthorpe remained undecided about a career path as he attended Brigham Young University. He said he completed “a few pre-law classes” before he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 2006.
“I then went to Boise and tried to get into law enforcement but none of the police departments would hire me because I was so young,” said Goldthorpe.
But Goldthorpe did find work with the Idaho Department of Corrections.
“I was a corrections officer for just over a year. But I knew it wasn’t going to provide for my family the way I wanted to,” said Goldthorpe.
He entered law school at Willamette University, graduating with a law degree in 2009.
While at law school, Goldthorpe said he was a clerk in the Marion County district attorney’s office.
“I was able to do eight jury trials before I graduated, which gave me a good taste and feel for the courtroom,” said Goldthorpe.
He then worked as a judge’s clerk in Portland before hiring on with the district attorney’s office in Astoria.
A human touch
Goldthorpe said he learned while working inside the justice system that people are basically the same.
“The job, if nothing else, has shown me everyone is human and I think we should appreciate that about each other,” said Goldthorpe.
At the Idaho prison, “I was working in close quarters with these people that had been convicted of every felony you could imagine and you saw them and talked to them and they would talk about their families. It definitely humanized felons. Just because they are a felon doesn’t mean they are not still a person,” said Goldthorpe.
Goldthorpe said he relies on his family – he is married with four children – to help him decompress from his job.
“My wife is my gauge that way. I check in with her once in a while to keep me oriented,” said Goldthorpe.
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