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Lane County voters will soon choose a new District Attorney

Lane County DA candidates Christopher Parosa and James Cleavenger.
Tiffany Eckert
Lane County candidates running for District Attorney, Christopher Parosa (left) and James Cleavenger.

After two elected terms as Lane County District Attorney, Patty Perlow is retiring from office. Seeking to fill the position of top prosecutor are two contenders with very different backgrounds and experience.

Christopher Parosa

Christopher Parosa has worked in the Lane County DA’s office since 2006. He’s currently the Chief Deputy District Attorney.

“For the majority of my career, I was prosecuting criminal cases, having moved through various teams within the agency, including the major crimes team where I prosecuted some of the most violent crimes here in Lane County,” he said.

With an endorsement from his outgoing supervisor, Parosa said he’s ready to take the reins. “I’ve really adopted and been lucky to have Patty Perlow, our current elected DA who’s really taken me under her wing and shown how to run a district attorney’s office,” he said.

As deputy DA, Parosa created a policy for how the county implements Senate Bill 819, a law passed in 2021 which allows for resentencing criminal cases when the original sentence no longer serves the interest of justice. Parosa calls it his pet project.

“I review their application, the underlying facts. I talk to the victims of the case to see what they want. And then I make a decision on that,” Parosa said. “And we've granted 41 reductions of sentences, which is about 30 percent and it's really become kind of the model for the rest of the state.”

If elected, he said he will lead the agency with compassion and accountability. “There's a way to do that where ultimately you take into consideration the interests of the community, the interests of the victim, but also the interests of the offender, the accused, and their family,” Parosa said. “There's a way we can have consideration for all three of those at the same time. And so that's really what motivates me.”

Parosa said he’s learned lessons while at the DA’s office. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 15 attorneys left within 18 months. The agency faced public scrutiny when it took up a “no file” list policy, limiting prosecutions of low-level offenses.

Now, he advocates for more attorney staffing and greater agency transparency.

“I want to create a public dashboard that ultimately demonstrates what cases are coming into the office, what decisions are being made so that folks can see for themselves where we're putting our precious resources and how the criminal justice system is working,” Parosa said.

With the recent overhaul of Measure 110 recriminalizing drug possession, Parosa is working to create a deflection program.

“What you're going to see for me is largely an extension of these alternative to incarceration type programs, drug treatment programs, mental health programs, and things of that nature,” he explained. “I'm also going to be very active in advocating for changes that I think are necessary from the legislature and particularly from our local legislators.”

Parosa has raised more than $65,000 in support of his run for DA.

James Cleavenger

James Cleavenger is an attorney who currently works as the Oakridge City Administrator.

This is Cleavenger’s second run for Lane County DA. He made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Perlow in 2020. Now, he says he’s on the May ballot because he didn’t want Parosa to run unopposed.

“If nobody else runs, then you will have what Lane County has had for decades now, which is nepotism,” Cleavenger said. “You know, you have a DA picking who’s going to take over for them which is happening again in this case.”

Cleavenger is licensed to practice law, but most of his career has been spent in law enforcement. He’s been a University of Oregon public safety officer, a police officer in Junction City and Coburg and currently serves as a reserve officer in Oakridge. Cleavenger said this experience prepares him for the DA position.

“It’s about safeguarding the public trust. I think there are expectations from the public about what a district attorney should do, what kind of cases are being prosecuted," he said. "That’s why I really want to include a public interest board, kind of an advisory board to the district attorney’s office to have a direct, public input.”

Cleavenger described the current office of the DA as shrouded in mystery. “It’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz,” he said. “It’s behind the curtain and I’d like to open that curtain.”

If elected DA, Cleavenger insisted he would “shake things up” throughout the county.

“I think that we should trust the jury system and take more risks when prosecuting cases. I’ve seen a lot of cases not prosecuted because the victims are homeless and they’re afraid ‘well, we can’t get them to court, can’t get them to the grand jury—they’re not going to show up.’ But they’re people too and they deserve their day in court,” he said.

Cleavenger has done no campaign fundraising out of conflict-of-interest concerns.

“Being the city administrator of Oakridge, you know I don’t want to solicit funds from people that I may interact with as a city leader,” he said.

Over the years, Cleavenger has made headlines. In 2015, he prevailed in a$1 million whistleblower case against the University of Oregon, Department of Public Safety.

While running for DA four years ago, allegations of a 2005 sexual assault surfaced. Cleavenger has denied the claims made by a fellow law student.

 The voters are boss

In the upcoming primary, the voters will decide who gets the job. Between Christopher Parosa and James Cleavenger, the candidate receiving 50% of the vote plus one will become Lane County’s next District Attorney.

The race and the position are nonpartisan, but both candidates are registered Democrats, according to public records kept by the Lane County Elections Office.

According to the Oregon Blue Book, while the state's District Attorneys are elected locally by voters in each county, "they are considered state officers whose salaries are paid by the state."

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and worked in a variety of media including television, technical writing, photography and daily print news before moving to the Pacific Northwest.
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