Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JANUARY 2005

Profiles in the Law
The Road to Prineville
By Janine Robben

On the steppes of Central Oregon – where the air smells like sagebrush and courthouse breaks once were signaled by cowbell – the prosecutor who convicted Oregon’s most-prolific serial killer is finishing his 30-plus-year career in virtual obscurity.

Andrejs "Andy" Eglitis couldn’t be happier. And neither could his new colleagues.

"I don’t know how we got lucky enough to be the county that stole him," says Crook County Deputy Sheriff Travis Jurgens, as Eglitis strolls through the sheriff’s office, conveniently located across the street from the nearly-100-year-old courthouse.

That sentiment is shared by the first boss Eglitis had in Oregon, Clackamas County District Attorney James W. O’Leary. "Andy’s the best natural attorney we ever had," says O’Leary, who ran one of the state’s largest district attorney’s offices for decades. "I think he’s the best trial attorney in the state."

But, if international politics had been different, Eglitis wouldn’t be in the United States at all.

"My parents had to leave Latvia because of the Soviet occupation," says Eglitis, who was born in 1945, while his parents were living in a displaced persons camp near Nurenberg, Germany. His father, who had become an American military officer, was in charge of a motor pool whose trucks shipped refugees from the camp to seaports. In 1949, Eglitis and his family sailed to America, landing at New York harbor just one week after his fourth birthday.

Eglitis attended schools in and around Chicago, including John Marshall Law School and before that, the University of Illinois Chicago branch. He was in private practice when friends lured him into the less-lucrative but – he says – more-interesting world of prosecution at the Dupage County, Ill. State’s Attorney’s Office.

"At that time, Dupage County was the fourth- wealthiest county in the U.S.," says Eglitis. "It was solidly Republican; any Democrats were in underground cells. And it prided itself on its squeaky-clean image (as opposed to Cook County)."

But, whatever it was, it wasn’t The West. "In Chicago, Oregon is one of those places that – until the Trail Blazers (became known) – really didn’t exist," says Eglitis. "(But) I’d always wanted to live in the West."

"In ’77, I put everything in a pick-up, put my motorcycle on a trailer behind and moved to Portland," Eglitis recalls. "I was living on a houseboat on the Columbia. No wife, no job. I was kind of enjoying life on the river – this was July."

Shortly thereafter, says Eglitis, he was in a tavern when something negative about lawyers on TV drew a positive response from the other patrons. " ‘The hell with you,’ " he says he said. "I’ll get a job."

And he did.

O’Leary picks up the story: "He knew more about prosecuting than I did," says O’Leary. "Within two months, Clackamas County’s judges were asking me why in the hell I had him in district court."

Eglitis went on to try many of the county’s highest-profile felonies, including Dayton Leroy Rogers, believed to be Oregon’s most-prolific serial killer, and Leroy Wayne Earp, whom Eglitis successfully prosecuted for murdering a school teacher while on parole for a previous murder.

Then, in 2001, the Department of Justice’s Brenda Rocklin – now interim head of SAIF – recruited him for DOJ’s District Attorney Assistance Program. Rocklin, who tried her last jury trial with Eglitis, says she was struck by the rapport with jurors that had made him so effective in Clackamas County.

"You never get the sense that he’s just trying to get on their good side," says Rocklin. "He just connects almost instantly. He’s a great trial lawyer."

For his part, Eglitis says, "I dearly loved that job and the people I worked with."

Nonetheless, last year, he made one last job change, signing on as chief deputy in the four-DA office of Crook County’s Gary Williams, with whom he’d served on the bar’s Criminal Law Committee.

"There’s a complete sense of community here that you don’t quite get in Portland suburbia," says Eglitis, who lives in Crook County and is enjoying the rural lifestyle. "Everybody here says, ‘How are you?’ and they mean it."

Eglitis says he plans to work through the end of Williams’ new four-year term. Then, the prosecutor James O’Leary calls "Oregon’s best" plans to hang it up.

He’ll have, he says, no regrets about having left the monetary rewards of private practice to be a career prosecutor.

"Prosecutors have enormous power," he acknowledges. "You have to exercise it judiciously; to be aware that someone’s life could change forever. It’s almost a cliché and trite to say, but the nice thing about being a prosecutor is you can look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about your work."

Janine Robben is a long-term member of the bar and a frequent contributor to the bar Bulletin. She is a former colleague of Eglitis.

Janine Robben is a long-term member of the bar and a frequent contributor to the bar Bulletin. She is a former colleague of Eglitis.

© 2005 Janine Robben

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