Perlow and Cleavenger Debate!

The District Attorney race in Lane County is turning out to be exciting and full of “mudslinging. “

With both sides slinging mud back and forth prior to tonight’s debate, I will be covering it live, then giving you the gist of what I saw and what we can look out for in future debates. With three debates scheduled between the two candidates, there is sure to be some sparks.

Patty Perlow is the incumbent and was appointed to the position by Governor Kate Brown in August of 2015 to the position after the resignation of Alex Gardner. Perlow was subsequently elected to the position in 2016 in a race against Eugene Lawyer, Clayton Tullos, receiving roughly 75% of the vote.

James Cleavenger is an attorney and police officer, he currently works for the City of Oakridge as a Police Officer and has worked for the University of Oregon Department of Public Safety. He has worked for Coburg, and Junction City before coming to Oakridge.

The debate between the two candidates took place on Zoom, a web based video sharing program that allows multiple people to share cameras at the same time. The debate was sponsored by Molina Leadership, each candidate had two minutes to answer each question, and a three minute time to speak to the voters.

Perlow went first in her speech to the voters, speaking about being able to receive grants and increasing funding and hiring back lawyers that had been let go in the previous administration. Claiming that she has a lower repeat offender rate, increasing mental health services, and services for juvenile homelessness. Indicating she was the the leader that was needed for the future with her experience.

James Cleavenger went next, indicating he was standing against the status quo, and that he was not hand picked and is against the nepotism that has existed in the office for many years. Stating that he is currently a part time lawyer and full time police officer. He is favor of increasing funding for mental health, and court mandated help. Speaking about law enforcement body cams, and stating that they should be released as soon as possible after a major incident regarding police officers and the community

Patty was asked what the definition of justice, she indicated that justice is not just handed out by the DA’s office, stating right now that justice is being delayed. It is a cooperative effort among the levels of criminal justice. Justice is what is right, and is what gets done when all the pieces work together.

Cleavenger was asked the same question regarding justice and indicated that the DA’s office fails to investigate most of the cases they are sent and that is frustrating. Perlow responded by stating that complete investigations are prosecuted, she indicated that poorly trained, smaller departments tend to have poorer quality work.

Cleavenger was asked about his limited experience, he said that he prosecuted municipal court cases, and that victims need to get their day in court, and he tries to make sure they get that. Perlow brought up a good point that the budget for the DA’s office is 11 million dollars and that Cleavenger did not have that experience. Perlow said she has prosecuted 30 years of cases and that mentoring is a big part of the job. Cleavenger’s rebuttal was that he would use the experience in the office to help him, and did not think it would be just his job to mentor.

Perlow was asked to explain her recruitment, retention, and training. She talked about having someone at U of O that helps her find good people, and the people who are on her staff, are there because they love it, they do the job because they care about the people and the community. Perlow elaborated that her office loses lawyers to the DOJ because their pay is better.

Cleavenger was asked about how he would manage the DA’s office, he indicated that there is already management in place, and that he would just tweak it as needed, making no drastic changes right away. You can’t make immediate drastic changes to the office, Make the office owned by the people. Perlow responded by stating that the complexities of the office prevent her name being taken off most things.

Perlow talked about being a team, that a culture changed, and that the public safety of the community has been improved. She said that the people in her office are excited about the culture there and everyone enjoys the hard work.

Perlow talked about a Child Advocacy System that was in place since before 2013, not claiming credit for it but not stating that the system was already in place when she took office, for the uneducated they would think she had started the program. Cleavenger talked about the lack of notification when offenders are released from jail, claiming that he would like to see that instituted not just for the victims but for the police, so they can be aware. Perlow responded by indicating that responsibility is the courts.

Perlow indicated that treatment court has it’s difficulties but is coming along. Perlow indicated success with Veteran’s Court and how proud she was of it. Cleavenger spoke about severe drug problems in Lane County and that something was needed to address it. Both candidates spoke about mass incarcerations indicating that prisons are needed for violent offenders, sex offenders, and severe property crime offenders with Perlow winning the point with her current stance. Cleavenger spoke about listening to the science and getting them the help they need to get programs to help address mental health, drug treatment, and homelessness. Perlow talked about having to use prison as a device to get some offenders to complete drug treatment.

Cleavenger, spoke about assistant district attorney’s not going forward with their cases because they are afraid to lose. Perlow responded that it was false, she indicated that the people in the office are encouraged to prosecute crimes and that losses will educate them. Perlow responded by saying that each lawyer she has is taught to be ethical, and logical in their decision making.

Cleavenger brought up that Perlow does not get along with the Public Defender’s Office. Perlow responded by saying that her and the Public Defender’s Office do work together well, and that they advocate together. Perlow even said that she was wanting higher pay for the public defense trial lawyers. Cleavenger responded that he was glad she had repaired that relationship.

Perlow and Cleavenger spoke about violent juvenile offenses, Cleavenger supports that the judges should have the right at sentencing, in opposition to Measure 11 for juveniles. Perlow challenged Cleavenger to find one juvenile case in the county that did not deserve to be tried as measure 11 that was. Cleavenger could not find one in Lane County, but did speak about one from another county that resulted in a long term incarceration for a 15 or 16 year old.

Perlow said the DA’s office provides significant rural communities being heard, speaking about law enforcement presence not having not enough police officers. Also indicating that law enforcement had access to 24 hour legal advice through an on call DA. Cleavenger disagreed, saying that persons in smaller communities had been forgotten, also saying that he knew that Perlow had been invited to a recent public safety forum in Oakridge but that she had refused to come. Perlow refuted saying that she had received an invitation to come to Oakridge, but when the city found out what she intended to say they did not want her to come. This reporter asked her who she had spoken with from the city and what she was going to say? I had not received a response as of the publication of this article, but stay tuned.

While all in all it was a good debate, the two have some animosity toward each other, which is usually the case when two people vie for such an important role. I would have to say the incumbent won the debate, with Cleavenger bringing up a lot of good points. There are too many ethical problems with Perlow that have been covered in previous articles to back her for DA, but her performance was adequate and polished, she did not get flustered, and seemed prepared. Cleavenger also seemed prepared and was perhaps caught flatfooted once or twice, but overall both did well.

Written by Stephan Ball