NEW DA TAKES OFFICE
- T.L. Petersen
- The Observer
It's not often anyone considers what a lawyer might have to go through to live in the Grande Ronde Valley, especially one with a few decades of experience.
Try living in a less-than-30-foot travel trailer during the heart of a Northeast Oregon winter. With a wife and a year-old Golden Retriever. While recovering from corrective heart surgery that came up between getting the new job and starting the new job. And while assuming a brand-new, intense job in a new town.
Tim Thompson just smiles.
Thompson became Union County's governor-appointed district attorney Nov. 13.
He took over the post from a temporary attorney sent out from Salem following Martin Birnbaum's resignation in mid-September.
Thompson confesses he thought about applying for the district attorney's job almost a year ago, when Birnbaum first gave notice he'd be leaving. At that time, Thompson said, he and his wife discussed applying, but decided that since he'd have to run for election in just a few months, the timing wasn't good.
"It was as easy decision to not apply," Thompson says.
But when the original pool of applicants didn't result in anyone being appointed, and the search was reopened, Thompson's decision was different.
Why would a lawyer working as an Oregon assistant attorney general in the department's organized crime section choose to come just about as far from Salem as is possible in Oregon?
And they knew what they were missing.
While Thompson did grow up in Portland, he got his law degree from the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in 1977 and soon headed away from the big city.
Thompson went into private practice in The Dalles in 1978, but in a somewhat unusual move also served as deputy city attorney for The Dalles. He was in court as both a private defense attorney, and as a city prosecutor Â— as long as he
didn't have to get involved with cases when a city employee was a party to the legal action.
As time passed, he was admitted to the group of lawyers who can practice in the federal courts system.
By 1980, Thompson was ready for more prosecutorial challenges, and moved to Pendleton to be a deputy district attorney for Umatilla County. Just a bit more than a year later, he took a similar post in Grants Pass with the Josephine County District Attorney's office.
Thompson left public service for a year again in 1985, returning to defense law.
But thinking about running for the district attorney's post, he was convinced to try a short stint in the county's parole and probation department. He completed the requirements in 1986 to be a parole and probation officer with the Oregon Department of Corrections.
And then, in the spring of 1987, Thompson won the primary election in Josephine County and began the first of four terms as that county's district attorney. He stayed in that position through November 1999.
A new century took the Thompsons to Salem, where he fist jointed the District Attorney Assistance section of the Attorney General's office. His duties were to work with the Interim Construction Fraud Evaluation Unit.
By July 2001, Thompson had moved to the organized crime section of the attorney general's office, handling a case load that included not only organized crime, but political corruption in Oregon, election law complaints and regional law enforcement intelligence briefings after Sept. 11, 2001.
Most recently, Thompson worked on cases of organized crime and political corruption, and cases where a law enforcement officer was being considered to have his Department of Public Safety and Standards certification pulled, as well as regional law enforcement intelligence briefings.
What's not to like about that job?
Thompson shrugs and notes that cases would just appear on his desk, little more than the next assignment.
He did, during recent years, see cases involving former Union Police Chief Dean Muchow, and he was aware of some of the issues between Martin Birnbaum and Janie Burcart prior to the 2004 election.
"I'm ecstatic to be here," Thompson says, not really spending much time reviewing his biographical information. In fact, he simply hands out a one-page description of his resume for that.
Instead, he wants to talk about knowing the people he works with and for, using his weekends to be outdoors and traveling.
And while Thompson says he did worry a little about coming into the Union County situation, since he wasn't local, he's been pleasantly surprised.
"Everyone has been wonderful, welcoming and open," he reports.
One surprise, he says, is the number of sex abuse cases waiting for him on the district attorney's desk. He expected cases involving alcohol and drugs, but the number and severity of the sex abuse cases was startling, he says.
As a former president of the Children's Advocacy and Treatment Center in Josephine County, Thompson is ready to follow up on the children's advocacy law most symbolized in Union County by former district attorney and now judge Russ West's efforts to establish the Mount Emily Safe Center.
In Union County, Thompson has a staff of two assistant district attorneys. He's missing the position of a chief deputy district attorney, eliminated after Birnbaum took over the post and cut Burcart's position.
That situation, Thompson says, leaves him with two attorneys who don't have a lot of experience.
But the ever-optimistic Thompson is ready for what he faces. He enjoys, he says, educating and mentoring younger attorneys.
Back to work in his new office after surgery in December, Thompson is careful about his future plans.
"I'm 56 now," he says, "and ideally I'll finish this term and another term. Then we'll have to re-evaluate.
"As long as I can be useful.'