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American News Jan 13, 2022 6:51 PM EST

Long-serving child abuse prosecutor in Portland resigns, citing DA Mike Schmidt as one of the reasons

"In the last year and a half, not only has the forward progress women made in our office ceased, but under your leadership women have been set back decades," wrote Kinney.

Long-serving child abuse prosecutor in Portland resigns, citing DA Mike Schmidt as one of the reasons
Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

On Monday, Amber Kinney, who served as a Multnomah county Deputy District Attorney for 13 years, handed in her resignation, citing issues that include District Attorney Mike Schmidt's lack of leadership.

"Please consider this letter my official notice of resignation. After nearly 13 years as a Deputy District Attorney, and despite loving my job, I am no longer willing to continue at the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. By way of explanation and with the hope of fostering improvement for the future of our office, I will provide my reasoning," the letter begins.

Kinney made note that her resignation was not due to "philosophical differences between your vision and my own."

"To the contrary, I believe change is long overdue and had hoped I would be part of the move into a more progressive, equitable, just and effective criminal justice system. I was looking forward to partnering with you to implement some of the ideas you expressed in your campaign," she wrote.

"However, the last 18 months have brought some aspects of your leadership and our office into clear focus," she continued.

In her letter, Kinney blasted Schmidt for the treatment of women and the opportunities they are presented in the office under his leadership’s stating boldly, "Under your leadership women have been set back decades."

Kinney stressed that she has attempted to make the Multnomah County DA’s Office a "workable office for women and mothers" over the years, noting that she is one of two trial attorneys at the office, the only one being female and having three young children at home with a full-time working spouse.

"Since joining our office in 2006, MCDA has made baby steps of progress. Slowly, more women were recruited, retention improved, and women held an increasing number of leadership positions. I was confident my priorities would align with yours and that gender discrimination would be further mitigated through your administration and your stated preference for diversity in leadership," wrote Kinney.

"In the last year and a half, not only has the forward progress women made in our office ceased, but under your leadership women have been set back decades. I’m unsure whether this failure is due to intentional gender discrimination on your part, or whether your implicit bias is running unchecked," she added.

Kinney noted that attorney management in the office is comprise of only one female, despite the current ratio for lawyers in the office being around 50/50 men and women. Of higher up positions, 80 percent she said were occupied by men. Of the next level down though, level 3 lawyers, nearly 70 percent are women.

"The newly created designation of 'Lead Level 3s' – the elite squad of major felony trial attorneys, recognized for our longevity in the office, complex caseload, and homicide call-out duty, but who are not supervisors – are almost all women (89% are women and 11% are men). This is a glass ceiling," wrote Kinney.

"For the first time in my career, and for the first time in decades, there is currently not a single female attorney leading a felony trial unit. This is an embarrassing reality in an office that prides itself on being progressive," she added.

Kinney continued on to highlight the overload of work that has occurred in recent years.

"However, my caseload, and all caseloads in our office, have doubled in the last two years. I handle some of the most important crimes in our community, sexual and physical crimes against children and child homicides. To increase my caseload to double is unworkable and reckless. This crushing load has forced us all to work below our standards and for our community to receive lower quality prosecution," wrote Kinney.

Kinney included in her letter a copy of her trial calendar, in which most of the cases are over one year old, with some being older than three years.

"Increased caseloads is not entirely your fault. The COVID pandemic has caused courts to operate at a lower capacity. Crime rates are high, due in part to the complex politics surrounding law enforcement response," she wrote.

"However, our caseloads are unreasonably high due also (and in large part) to mismanagement within our office. And that is your fault," she stressed.

Kinney stated that the cases she handles are almost entirely compromised "of Ballot Measure 11 (mandatory minimum) felonies, many subject to laws requiring a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison (Ballot Measure 73 and Jessica’s Law)."

"As you are keenly aware, you ran a campaign opposed to Ballot Measure 11 and mandatory minimum prison sentences. However, since taking office 18 months ago, you have not provided any new policies or direction to the DDAs about how we should handle mandatory minimum cases: whether we should resolve them differently, or whether we should issue them differently," she said.

The lack of clarification has caused frustration amongst judges and defense attorneys.

"In case resolution staffings with my Chief DDA and others in my unit, it has become clear that due to your lack of policy driven direction, nobody actually knows how our cases should resolve anymore," she wrote.

As a result of the confusion, Kinney said that criminal defendants are remaining in pretrial detainment longer, and victims subjected to increased stress and anxiety.

"To be clear, I am not opposed to lower-prison resolutions on mandatory minimum cases. If that is what you prefer, then I simply ask that you provide that guidance in the form of some new internal policy," she clarified.

Kinney continued on to state that the increased workloads seen by the office "disproportionately impact women," who are more likely to take on domestic responsibilities at home in addition to their career, and who many times do not have a stay-at-home partner like their male counterparts.

"So when workloads increase, it disproportionately impacts those whose lives do not allow for continued absorption of increased work," she wrote.

"If retaining female prosecutors is a priority, then MCDA must acknowledge the inherent differences between women and men. You must examine your implicit gender biases and make conscious accommodations to correct for the unequal impact of this work on women. This, coupled with the lack of leadership opportunities for women, is why we have lost so many experienced and talented female attorneys. Since you took office in August 2020, we have lost eight career prosecutors – seven of the eight are women. I am the ninth. And I will not be the last," she added.

Kinney also noted the hiring of Ernie Warren, who according to Kinney, made many of the women in the office uncomfortable. Warren was hired to be the supervisor of the "Justice Integrity Unit," but forced to resign six weeks later after reportedly sexually harassing a female colleague.

"Your poor decision making has left women in the office feeling vulnerable and our opinions inconsequential. We are all waiting to see who you decide to fill the vacancy left by Mr. Warren, and whether this will be filled by yet another man," Kinney wrote.

Kinney highlighted how working on the child abuse team, and how the cases, the victims she meet, and the families she helped "are and will forever be the bright spot of my career."

"This work is important, and I feel grateful to MCDA and our community for giving me the opportunity to serve in this capacity. It saddens me deeply to think that I will leave this tremendously rewarding work. I feel intense loyalty to the victims and families on my caseload. I am sorry to them that I cannot continue to advocate for them, walk with them into the courtroom as I had promised, and assist them through one of the most difficult times in their lives. I hope they know that I am not leaving because of them, rather it is because of them that I have stayed. It has been a privilege to work with each and every one of them," wrote Kinney.

Kinney continued on to state that she is "taken aback and disappointed by your lack of emphasis and priority on family and juvenile cases," and that protecting children and families "is the most essential area of criminal prosecution," noting that it has a large impact on a person’s success as an adult.

"Nearly every adult who intersects with the criminal justice system has trauma rooted in their childhood. Every child, youth, and family deserves our support. Supporting families is (in my opinion) the most progressive form of criminal justice reform, as it has the highest potential to divert would-be offenders before they ever offend," wrote Kinney, who accused Schmidt of "gutting" the juvenile unit.

"You chose to cut this support. Without any recourse because you haven’t told our community. In fact, you haven’t even told us. In another example of poor management, there was no internal announcement or written policy. You simply made the decision unilaterally and told our courts that MCDA would no longer be appearing in general dependency cases,’ she continued.

Kinney closed out her letter by expressing her disappointment by how she was treated by management, and how she was passed over for promotion despite being a good fit for the position.

"This upward trajectory came to an abrupt halt in the last six to nine months. All of a sudden, I was passed over for promotion repeatedly by lawyers with less diversity and less experience than me. I don’t know why this has happened, but I suspect it has something (or everything) to do with me becoming vocal about the mistreatment of women in our office," wrote Kinney.

Kinney said she attempted to speak with leadership about the issue, but was told to come back with a union representative because "they feared civil litigation."

In a meeting with First Assistant Jeff Howes, she was told that promotion decisions were made "based on objective and subjective criteria." While she said that she met the objective criteria, she questioned what the subjective criteria was, and thought that may be why.

"Jeff Howes was unable or unwilling to provide me with any information as to what the subjective criteria are – except to say that it is your decision, not his," she said, referring to Schmidt.

"Likewise, in a follow-up meeting with Chief DDA Don Rees (my direct Chief who supervises me), he was unable to identify anything that I needed to improve and was unable to tell me why I was being passed over for promotion – except to say that it is your decision, not his. A promotion system based on unknown, subjective criteria is a system ripe for discrimination, implicit bias, and retaliation," she continued.

Kinney concluded by slamming Schmidt, stating that "You are not living up to this promise. There is no transparency."

"The result is a current management scheme that operates without authority, consistency, or confidence. Your lack of transparency is felt by the staff you oversee and the public you serve. We are disappointed," she wrote.

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