After six weeks on the job, the head of the newly formed justice integrity unit at the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office has resigned.
Ernie Warren, a longtime Portland defense attorney, stepped down with little explanation on Wednesday. He declined to comment and said in a message he was “wishing them all the best.”
In a message to staff, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said he wished Warren well and that he would continue to be an ally for integrity in the criminal justice system.
“We always knew bringing a career defense attorney into a prosecutor’s office was going to be a difficult transition, and in this case, it didn’t work out,” Schmidt wrote. “Ernie and I agree that the work of the JIU is bigger than any one person.”
Warren founded the first Black-owned defense firm in Oregon and spent years representing clients charged by the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office. The justice integrity unit’s mission, as laid out by Schmidt, is to examine past convictions, ensuring all steps of the process were pursued properly.
During an interview with OPB’s Think Out Loud last month, Warren spoke about his desire to review non-unanimous jury convictions, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that found them unconstitutional. During that same interview, Warren spoke of his enthusiasm and overall vision for the job.
“I went hard in the defense of people who were charged with crimes,” Warren told Think Out Loud. “I’ve had 100 trials. I believe in the truth. I believe in innocence and looking at people who may have been wrongfully convicted that may be exonerated by DNA. Looking at excessive sentences is really what I was doing all the time as a one-man team, and now I have the DA’s office behind me to do the same thing.”
The DA’s office wouldn’t say what’s next for the office’s new conviction integrity unit or how it plans to move forward.