PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A lead victim’s advocate for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office has quit over what she said is severe understaffing and a concerning oversight of victims under District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s watch.
In a resignation letter dated July 1, Vanessa Palacios said the loss of experienced attorneys and support staff have left the DA’s office in shambles. She said the influx of new hires and their lack of experience has proven “detrimental to victims.”
“It is easy to replace employees, but it [is] also very easy to violate the constitutional rights afforded to victims by untrained and inexperienced attorneys, and even worse, to put victims at risk by not employing efficient legal strategies that could keep violent offenders in custody,” said Palacios.
Palacios claimed incoming prosecutors have looked to victim advocates to help understand and navigate legal processes and procedures. In the letter, she said there were multiple instances where prosecutors made mistakes that jeopardized victims’ safety and trust in the criminal justice system.
One example, Palacios wrote, included when “one day a judge making a release decision, questioned a prosecutor’s decision to file an amended petition instead of an affidavit of probable cause. The arraignment deputy had no clue what to respond, given her limited experience as an arraignment deputy and with our office, so the judge released the defendant.”
As the DA’s office continues to see crushing workloads, Palacios said the Victim Advocate Program continues to go short-staffed with only one recent hire. Meanwhile, she said there’s been a handful of new deputy district attorneys and staff in the Justice Integrity Unit.
She said Schmidt’s lack of initiative to hire more advocates makes it seem like “victims are an afterthought.”
“Your office is falling apart, and the victims along with it; all under your watch. Everyone in this office shows up each day to fight for victims, everyone but you. You have let defense attorneys run this courthouse, and now our office,” said Palacios. “It seems you are saving your political capital for your own future career, which suggests that you are sacrificing the safety of victims and the community for your own personal political gain.”
Palacios resignation comes as many are calling for solutions to the public defender crisis.
In a statement, Schmidt called Palacios a “valued member” and was sad to see her go.
“For the first time in decades, we have gained positions in the DAs office, not lost them, including a victim advocate position,” said Schmidt. “Fighting for victims has played a central role throughout my career, from my time as a line prosecutor in this office, as the head of the Criminal Justice Commission, and as the District Attorney. I am committed to the victims we serve and the people that serve them, every day.”