Accessing Justice - Guest Writer Elizabeth Knight
The first pro bono client I ever had was a domestic violence survivor seeking a restraining order against her abuser. As we walked from my office to the Multnomah County Courthouse for her hearing some twenty years ago, I heard my client say under her breath: “I wish I had a real lawyer.” I wasn’t offended, because I understood. Her abuser had money and had hired an experienced lawyer to represent him, while she couldn’t afford a lawyer and ended up with me, a volunteer lawyer fresh out of law school. Notwithstanding my nerves (and my private thought that I, too, wished she had a real lawyer!), we won her case and she got her restraining order. Her demeanor leaving the courthouse was entirely changed from when we’d arrived that morning; she was relieved, empowered, and grateful for my help, and in that moment she and I both felt the importance and power of a justice system accessible to all, regardless of income or status.
I’m Elizabeth Knight and I’m Ethan’s wife. I met Ethan in 1996 when we were first-year law students at the University of Oregon. After graduating in 1999 we started our new jobs in Portland. I went into private practice for a local law firm, while Ethan took a job first as a deputy district attorney at the Multnomah County DA’s Office, and later moved across the street to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. For 20 years we’ve worked hard at our jobs, but we’ve also devoted many hours to the community and the legal profession, and to important causes like access to justice.
I believe that as lawyers, we have a professional responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal access to our justice system. In other words, that we live up to our promise of liberty and justice for all. For lawyers in private practice this means doing pro bono work and supporting Oregon’s critical legal aid programs. For criminal law lawyers it means ensuring a level playing field and equal treatment before the courts, which is paramount to a functional and fair criminal justice system. Just as important, we need a District Attorney who will enforce the law but who will do so equally, and equitably.
It is these principles which I know, first hand, that Ethan embodies and would bring to the table as District Attorney. I’ve watched as he’s handled the smallest of cases and the largest of cases, and have seen his tremendous commitment to his work. But even entrenched in a major trial (when, much to the chagrin of his family, he’s working round the clock), he never loses sight of the fact that he’s dealing with real people and real lives, and that everyone in the process matters. He is committed to enforcing the law but does so in a fair and just way, drawing on his 20 years of experience working with defense attorneys, judges, victims, and law enforcement, as well as the credibility and trust earned only through years on the job. It is the depth of his legal experience combined with his personal commitment to a criminal justice system that works – for everyone – that makes him uniquely qualified to serve as our county’s next District Attorney.
That’s why I’m excited that so many of Ethan’s and my colleagues in the legal profession, and more than 100 endorsers total, are supporting his candidacy for Multnomah County District Attorney. They are supporting Ethan because they believe, like I do, he will be a strong, but fair, District Attorney.