COOS COUNTY — Paul Frasier has never faced a contested bid for his spot as Coos County District Attorney.
He chalks this up as being either “who is crazy enough to want the job?” he laughed, or because he’d like to think “the legal community — at least — respect what I’ve been doing and that’s why I haven’t had competition from another lawyer in the county.”
The long-sitting Coos County DA is on the ballot again this month for what he plans to be his last term.
“I’m 62 now and after this term I will be 66 and it is my intent to retire then,” Frasier said.
What has he accomplished?
Frasier’s career in the criminal justice system has spanned 35 years so far, having graduated from Willamette University College of Law in 1984. He became a prosecutor the same year, but found his way to Coos County in 1990 when he was offered the spot of Chief Deputy DA.
When the district attorney at the time, Paul Burgett, retired a year before his term ended, Frasier was appointed as the county district attorney by former-Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2008.
Quickly after being elected to the position later that year, Frasier says he initiated the transition of how child abuse allegations were handled.
“When I became DA in 2008, I had to handle a lot of the child sex abuse cases and still handle the more severe ones,” he said. “I began to realize, while handling those, that while the Children’s Advocacy Center was doing a good job getting interviews from the victims, we weren’t addressing other things that needed to be done in terms of if they were getting the medical care and psychological care they needed.”
At the time, the Children’s Advocacy Center was what Frasier described as “prosecution-based and went after the evidence it needed to get the bad guy.” There was a second model though, which was medical-based, that emphasizes how the victim can be helped.
The Children’s Advocacy Center was shifted under Bay Area Hospital, where it became the Kids' HOPE Center.
“Moving to what we have at the Kids' HOPE Center is one thing I’m proud of,” Frasier said. “I brought up the idea and pushed it.”
He acknowledged that “other people took the ball” in making it happen.
Looking at his career over the years, he says he has personally prosecuted thousands of cases and has been involved in close to 100 homicide investigations.
With no one to contest his bid for another term as district attorney, Frasier is already working to solve some of the pressing issues his office is facing. He said last month, the Coos County Budget Committee cut a vacant deputy DA position.
“I had a vacant deputy DA position that’s been vacant for a while partly due to the shortage of lawyers and a shortage of people who want to come work on the South Coast,” Frasier explained. “While we’ve adjusted the pay scale for deputy DA’s in the county, we’re competing against other counties.”
He had hope that new graduates would apply for the position this summer before the position was cut.
“This is putting me in a hard spot,” he said. “… I’ve talked with the commissioners about this before … we’re on the edge of the windowsill and have been for a long time. We’re barely hanging on by our fingernails in terms of cases coming in versus people being able to get to the work.”
However, he said in 2007 “the county made horrendous cuts (after) timber money (stopped) coming in. We’ve tried to maintain and do the best we can with what we have and faced shortfalls.”
While the deputy DA position was vacant, his office prioritized person crimes like assaults, sex crimes and felonies.
“We concentrated on those,” he said. “There were things we didn’t get to like criminal trespass, shoplifting an item less than $100.”
Then as the COVID-19 pandemic limited court appearances, Frasier and his staff hoped to go through the backlog of 500 to 600 cases, some as far back as 2018.
“We hoped to get through the back intake and this new person would come in and we’d be caught up,” Frasier said. “With that position gone, we’re not able to prosecute some of these cases. I’m afraid we’re going to have to reject cases because we don’t have resources.”
Last year, his office had 3,600 cases referred to them by law enforcement. Right now on staff, he has one deputy DA who is funded by the state’s Justice Reinvestment Act and is assigned to work with parole and probation cases. Another deputy is assigned to the juvenile department and child support cases, which range anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 cases a year in addition to the 3,600 cases his office receives.
Meanwhile, Frasier carries the murder cases. Currently, three are on the shelf that require his attention, one with a trial slated for August. He says he also handles the first-degree sex crimes, which “are time-consuming cases.”
That leaves four deputy DA’s to look at the 3,600 cases.
“I don’t know how we will do that,” he said. “When cases are rejected, they are sent back to agencies and aren’t prosecuted. We will only do that with the backlog ….”
Possible solutions would include a law enforcement levy for the county that would fund the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, and potentially the jail.
“It’s a matter of funding,” he said. “If you don’t have the money, you can’t fill the position.”
Ballots have been mailed to voters. Election Day is May 19.