A plea agreement offered by the Columbia County District Attorney’s office to a Vernonia man charged with 28 counts of sexual crimes involving children isn’t sitting well with at least one of his victims. “The offer was extended – over the objections of my client and the objections of the other victims – for five years in prison,” said Portland attorney Josh Lamborn. Lamborn is representing one of the victims in the case, attorneys from the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center are representing two other victims and a fourth victim decided not to testify in the case. The charges related to that fourth victim would likely be dropped if the case went to trial.
Richard Scott Courtney, 63, was arrested in March 2011 after a 10-month long investigation conducted by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents. The DA’s office offered Courtney the agreement on June 14. Currently, Courtney, who has not pleaded guilty to the crimes he is charged with, is expected to accept the offer. Another hearing has been scheduled for July 5.
Three victims under the age of 12, two of whom were related to Courtney through extended family members, were interviewed during the investigation. A total of four victims were eventually identified in the case. Lamborn said he and his client are both frustrated by the amount of time it has taken to bring the case to closure. “In Multnomah County, they have a timeline for different kinds of cases. In a case like this, the timeline is 150 days for sex abuse cases. And after that, it becomes a date-certain trial date,” said Lamborn. To date, it has been more than 450 days since Courtney was arrested. Lamborn said he and the other attorney were not included in the settlement conference. While this isn’t unheard of, he says it is a practice that shouldn’t continue.
“This is a right that victims’ rights advocates have been fighting for for a while. In fact, in the last legislature, they passed a law to make the judicial settlement conference a critical stage of the proceedings so that victims would have the right to be notified and be present for those hearings,” he said. But Lamborn acknowledged that while victims have the right to be consulted, the district attorney’s office still has the final say so. “That makes sense,” said Lamborn, “but at the same time they are supposed to consider what the victim wants. That doesn’t seem to have happened here.” Lamborn said his client, and those represented by the OCVLC, are willing to testify in the case and want to see Courtney receive a much tougher sentence.
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