Multnomah judge candidate: ‘low morale’ at federal courthouse

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Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Adrian Brown is one of two candidates in the November run-off to be a Multnomah County judge

Adrian Brown, a candidate for judge in Multnomah County, is shown here speaking at a housing conference. (PMG/Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Night after night, protesters have ringed Portland’s downtown federal courthouse. Will Multnomah County voters send a career federal attorney to the circuit court?

Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Adrian Brown is depending on it.

As a key player in the 2012 settlement agreement between City Hall and the feds regarding the Portland Police Bureau’s use of force against those suffering from mental illness, Brown says she has spent a career making change from within the system.

Adrian Brown received a special commendation for outstanding service in the Civil Rights Division of the US DOJ. (Courtesy Photo)

“I championed that case within our office. It was not a popular decision. I lost people who I thought were my friends,” Brown, 45, of Northeast Portland, said in an interview. “And yet, that’s the core of who I am. It’s extremely important for a judge to be someone who’s willing to make unpopular decisions.”

What she cites as her biggest accomplishment — serving for 10 years as Oregon’s federal civil rights coordinator, a position she created here and worked in D.C. during the Obama years to establish in 30 other districts across the country — has received little attention.

“We did a press release and Asian Reporter picked it up,” Brown said, referring to a bi-monthly paper that mostly prints Associated Press stories. “They were the only ones.”

Brown captured roughly one-third of the vote in the primary election — a six-way melee that illustrates just how rare open seat judicial elections have become, as most on the bench retire mid-term and have replacements appointed by the governor. Brown herself applied for Multnomah County judicial seats in 2017 and 2018, but the governor ultimately picked other candidates.

Brown’s opponent in the November run-off, Rima Ghandour, would be the first Muslim-American and Arab-American woman to hold a judgeship in the state of Oregon. (Read a profile on Ghandour here.)

The race hasn’t been cheap.

Ghandour has raised more than $100,00 in cash, and has loaned herself another $15,000, according to state records. Brown has raised more than $110,000 in cash, according to filings, while her husband Michael Brown has taken out loans for the campaign, adding another $90,000. Though campaign finance limits are in place for city and county elections this year, there is no legal limit for judicial elections, which are technically state positions.

“The social justice mindset,” Brown said, “that, I think, my opponent and I both share. But I also come with the experience of knowing how that system works on both sides.”

But the votes that made Brown the race’s frontrunner were tallied May 19. Six days later, Minneapolis resident George Floyd died in police custody, and the world reoriented.

What Brown had counted as her bona-fides — ROTC at Indiana University; almost seven years in the U.S. Airforce, where she served as an advocate, criminal defense counsel and prosecutor; and an early career prosecuting drug traffickers along the Interstate 5 corridor — might be viewed as demerits by the protesters marching in the streets.

Brown notes that both the reformer and the law-and-order candidate in the May contest to be Multnomah County District Attorney, Mike Schmidt and Ethan Knight, have endorsed her.

“They have seen me listen, they have seen me bring people together,” said Brown. “It’s the work that you have done that is telling.”

Yet Billy J. Williams — the top federal law enforcement official in Oregon, and ultimately Brown’s boss — has publicly clashed with area leaders, refusing to un-deputize local officers and calling for a sterner response to demonstrations at the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse.

As a career prosecutor, Brown said she has no control over the headlines made by political appointees such as U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“The morale within the department, at least from my colleagues that I associated with, is extremely low right now, because our credibility, our reputation, is rightfully under attack,” she said. “It’s heart wrenching.”

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