© 2024 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lincoln County District Attorney Danforth announces June 21 resignation, asks for state help to staff office

A government meeting. Four people are visible at the dais. One person is sitting at a table in front.
Quinton Smith
Yachats News
Lincoln County District Attorney Lanee Danforth regularly battled county commissioners, including confrontation in 2022 over hiring for a detective position in her office. 

This story originally appeared on YachatsNews.com and is used with permission.

Lincoln County’s embattled district attorney announced Monday she will resign June 21 and that she has asked the Oregon Department of Justice to come in and help run the office.

Danforth announced her resignation and request for state help in an email Monday to her staff and local law enforcement officials.

The announcement came two weeks after the May primary election in which Danforth decided not to seek re-election to a second, four-year term.

But it also came after yet another deputy district attorney in the office submitted his resignation – leaving the office with just two of eight prosecutor positions by the end of the month.

Danforth, who has been embroiled in controversy and the office in turmoil almost since the start of her term in January 2021, said she had been wrestling with her decision for months. She had filed for re-election last September but dropped out of the May primary in early March.

“As much as it saddens me, I need to step down and focus on my health,” her statement said.

Danforth also said she has asked the Oregon Department of Justice to come in to help staff the office – and mentioned the possibility that Gov. Tina Kotek could appoint someone from that agency to be an interim district attorney.

Jenna Wallace, who has been a prosecutor in the office for two years and Danforth’s chief deputy since last August, won the May 21 election and typically would take office next January.

“I have reached out to DOJ regarding what assistance they will be providing to us during the transition and until we get additional DDA staffing,” Danforth said in her email. “At this point, I am unsure whether our DA-elect Jenna Wallace will be appointed immediately or whether DOJ will step in as the interim DA. I will keep you posted on that decision.”

Took office in 2021

Danforth was sworn in as Lincoln County’s top law enforcement officer in January 2021, taking over the district attorney’s office from Jonathan Cable, a former deputy district attorney appointed by then-Gov. Kate Brown.

Danforth won election to the job by defeating Cable in a hotly contested, divisive and expensive race, spending $30,000 of her own money to campaign. Before her election, Danforth had been a deputy district attorney in Lincoln County for two years, following shorter stints in Coos and Washington counties.

Danforth told the Newport News-Times after her swearing in that she planned a social media page and new website with regular updates from her office. She also told the paper that she wanted to hold “virtual” town halls to reach out to the public to discuss crime issues and the district attorney’s office operations.

Not much of that happened. Instead, which can be typical with such changes, longtime deputy district attorneys began leaving and the office has struggled to recruit and keep attorneys since. But political or office issues often broke into view outside the courthouse, including:

  • months-long fight with county commissionersin early 2022 over Danforth’s desire to hire longtime sheriff’s Detective Abby Dorsey to be one of her investigators, culminating in a compromise allowing it. But tired of the turmoil, Dorsey returned to the sheriff’s office 15 months later to work nights as a patrol deputy in Waldport.
  • June 2023 federal lawsuitby former deputy district attorney Kenneth “Rusty” Park alleged that Danforth and former chief deputy Lynn Howard violated his rights of free speech, right of association for his union activities, and due process after being put on administrative leave in January 2022.
  • Wallace got pulled into a controversy last year when Danforth objected to the county rejecting her request to create a second chief deputy position and sued commissioners in circuit court. In December, an outside judge ruled in the commissioner’s favor. In the meantime, Howard left to work in Linn County and Danforth promoted Wallace to the chief deputy’s position.

Departures hurt office

Both Wallace and her May election opponent, Kathryn Benfield, campaigned on the need to recruit, train and retain prosecutors – a difficult task because of the office’s pay, high caseloads and the cost of housing on the Oregon coast.

The day before the May primary, two deputy district attorneys – Hollie Boggess and Carly Cannon – announced their resignations for those three reasons. Also resigning was Jessica Gordon, who did not give a public explanation for her departure. Ivan Abrams, who has been an attorney since 1991 mostly in Arizona, was hired in December but also resigned this week.

That leaves three prosecutors in the office, not including Wallace, until Boggess leaves June 29 and when there will be two.

The Oregon Department of Justice said Tuesday it was ready to help.

Roy Kaufmann, a spokesman for the agency, said in an email to YachatsNews that Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and its criminal justice division “are very familiar with the situation, and well-acquainted with that office.”

The agency had one of its attorneys fill in as an acting district attorney in late 2019 when Michelle Branam resigned the office and it recently had staff serving as acting district attorneys in Columbia and Klamath counties.

“The Oregon Department of Justice has a district attorney assist program, and we do everything we can, given our limited resources, to help when requested,” Kaufmann said in his email.

When a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints the district attorney, but that usually takes time. So during the recruitment process, Kaufmann said the governor directs the attorney general to discharge the duties of the district attorney and an assistant attorney general is then assigned to do that.

County commissioners said Tuesday they would direct other staff to help Wallace or the Department of Justice prosecutors, should they be deployed.

Commissioner Kaety Jacobson said she contacted the governor’s office Tuesday to request assistance for the district attorney’s office, both for prosecutors and additional help with the overall staff shortage in the office.

“As our incoming district attorney Jenna Wallace manages her own case load, she now has this added complexity of possibly stepping into the top management role sooner than expected and steering a transition without the assistance of her predecessor,” commission chair Casey Miller said in a statement. “I’ll propose to our management team that we take steps to integrate DA-elect Wallace as soon as practicable and will suggest that department heads reach out to demonstrate commitment to inter-departmental customer service.”

Quinton Smith founded YachatsNews in 2019 after a 40-year career as a reporter and editor for United Press International and three Oregon newspapers. He worked in various editing positions at The Oregonian from 1984 to 2008 where he led a reporting team that won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.