September 2001
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Walter Gordon "Gordy" Edgar, Esq.                           
Interviewed August 2001 via email from Douglas County, Washington.

A Matter of Opinion: Raising Civic Awareness
"A Matter of Opinion is a weekly one-hour program ... We usually take an issue and examine it in greater detail.  We have the guests to put a human voice on the subject, and we examine the subject from several angles."

"To me the legal system encompasses a knowledge of our rights and responsibilities as citizens and neighbors.  I think that if the general public had a decent understanding of those basic rights and responsibilities, people would have less, not more, interaction with the court system."

"I think attorneys have a heightened responsibility to make an effort to educate the public - they can do so by writing op-ed pieces for the newspapers, speaking at schools and service clubs, and running for office."
Q:  Why did you go to law school?

A:  I went to law school because I wanted to be like JFK.  I wanted to save the world one little piece at a time through social justice.  I grew up in a military family and had the opportunity of living in Alabama and Texas during the school busing era, the assassination of RFK, the assassination attempt on Governor George Wallace, and the turmoil of the late '60s and early '70s.  When I was 12 years old, I would wake up early and watch the re-broadcast of the Watergate hearings.  I was enthralled by the wranglings before congress and it was at that time that I knew I wanted to become a lawyer.

Q:  Where did you go to law school and when did you graduate?

A:  I attended the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.  It has a reputation as an environmental law school, but I went there because it was small and had high academic entrance standards. I graduated in 1991.

Q:  What have you done since law school?

A:  After leaving law school I practiced in a ten-attorney law firm that specialized in municipal law, especially representing public utility districts.  The firm also devoted a small portion of its time to general practice such as family law, personal injury, and land use issues.  After two years in that environment I was dissatisfied with the practice of law when I realized that I was not making any real social contribution, so I left to become a prosecutor.

I've been a deputy prosecutor for 8 years now and I have found that I really like what I do.

I have also realized that being an attorney is not the only way of saving the world:  I currently coach the junior high school football team, I was previously the coach of the Waterville women's softball team, I have served two terms as the chairman of the county democratic central committee, I have served on several community arts boards and councils, I have participated in fundraising campaigns for school levies and performing arts centers, I am currently the chairman of the school board, I have managed a couple of local democratic campaigns in a heavily conservative region, and I was the county coordinator for Senator Maria Cantwell's campaign and for Congressman Jay Inslee's campaign. 

Q:  What do you do in your role as deputy prosecutor?

A:  In my role as a deputy prosecuting attorney I handle mostly criminal matters.  I also handle civil questions for the county elected officials and their departments - issues such as zoning, taxation, employment and liability evaluation.

In the criminal realm I handle all sorts of cases from murders and rapes to traffic infractions.  We are a small office (4 attorneys) so the work is spread out and no one specializes in any particular area.  I handle most of the DUI's (driving under the influence) and domestic violence cases, with a few drug cases here and there.  Whenever we get a complex case or a murder case, the whole office is involved.  I am involved in every aspect of the case from the late night call from the officer all the way through the appeal to the state supreme court.

I've been involved in a couple of capital murder cases, and I prosecuted the youngest murderers in the State of Washington.  Back in 1994, two 12-year-olds shot to death a homeless migrant worker.  The case gained national prominence and I was interviewed by all of the major networks.  My interviews even appeared on Oprah and Nightline.

Q:  What happened to the two 12-year-olds?

A:  The two 12year-old boys were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to juvenile incarceration until age 21.

Q:  What is Douglas County like?

A:  Douglas County is situated in North Central Washington and is almost the geographic center of the state.  It only has a population of approximately 30,000 people.  The geographic size of Douglas County is larger than Rhode Island.  It is mostly wheat country on the Columbia Plateau with quite a bit of orchards along the Columbia Plateau.  The only industry is agriculture. 

Politically the region is the hotbed of conservatism for the state.  Bush won nearly 80 percent of the vote. The republican speaker of the state house, an arch conservative, is from this county.  The citizenry spend a lot of time bad-mouthing liberals, listening to Rush Limbaugh and blaming Seattle for our bad economic times.

Our economy has been in a steep downward spiral for the last five years. Wheat prices are at historic lows, the price of apples have plummeted because of cheap Chinese apples that are being dumped in our country, orchards are being ripped out in record numbers, and the wheat subsidies and land set-aside subsidies have been reduced or eliminated altogether.  Our unemployment rate is about the highest in the state averaging about 8 percent, and even if you have a job the salaries are pretty dismal. Needless to say, Clinton and Seattle have been blamed for everything, and it is not easy being a democrat in this part of the country.

Q:  What is the Douglas County seat? What municipality are you working from?

A:  The county seat is Waterville, population 1,000.  I work out of Waterville and in East Wenatchee, population 20,000.

Q:  How did you, as a liberal, end up in a conservative district? Or, if it is your home district, how did you become a liberal amidst a sea of conservatism?

A:  I am originally from Richland, a city approximately 3 hours south of here, so after law school I was looking for work near, but not too close, to my family.  I also love the eastern Washington area - the desert, the Columbia River, Cascade Mountains, 250 days of sunshine per year, and wide open spaces.  Plus I don't mind the political challenge of being in the minority - the prize is worth more if the contest is a hard-fought battle.

Q:  Are there any crime problems particular to that region of the state?

A:  We are experiencing an unusually high surge of methamphetamine use and production.  Because we are out in the boonies and there is very little law enforcement, a lot of druggers set up their meth labs in our county.  Meth is extremely easy to cook and its resale value is high.   Meth is a devastating and toxic drug.  The risks and costs of clean-ups are high. The druggers turn to burglary and theft to finance their habits, so we have seen a skyrocketing in our burglary reports.

[Go to Top]                                         Examining an Issue                                     [Go to End]

Q:  You are involved with a radio program called A Matter of Opinion.  What is that all about?

A:  A Matter of Opinion is a weekly one-hour program hosted by myself, the designated liberal, and Brian Maydole, a former county commissioner and the designated conservative.  Being involved in politics as well as the prosecutor's office, I have had quite a bit of contact with the local media. One day while talking with the news director of the radio station, the idea for the show kind of evolved.  We've been doing the show for about 18 months.  Neither of us is paid.  The radio station is a talk and news format that caters to the conservative crowd.  It plays Rush Limbaugh in the morning and Mike Savage in the evening.

It is supposed to be a "point counter-point" format.  We regularly interview guests.  We've had senators, congressmen, governors, candidates for just about every office, mayors, county commissioners, and the list goes on.  We usually take an issue and examine it in greater detail.  We have the guests to put a human voice on the subject, and we examine the subject from several angles.  We take phone calls.  After we've examined the subject, then we debate its merits in the last third of the show.  Brian and I research the subjects fairly well, and we have pre-production meetings to flesh out the show's agenda.  By the time the show airs, we both know what the other person is going to say and what questions we are going to ask. We share our research and our notes.  The only thing we can't anticipate are the questions the callers will ask.

The show has been very well received in the listening area (North Central Washington - population of about 150,000).

We are just a couple of political hacks having a good time.  We are also trying to build our political capital for future campaigns.

Q:  Did the idea for the radio program arise from a perception that the program would help educate the public?

A:  Yes, and more.  The news director and I both felt that the sound bite news programs were not giving out enough information.  The station was also looking to provide balance to its heavily weighted conservative programming.  The debate format helps to keep each side honest and tends to steer us away from partisan hyperbole.

[Go to Top]                   Encompassing Rights and Responsibilities                 [Go to End]

Q:  Do you think the average citizen has a decent understanding of how the legal system works?

A:  I think the average person knows too little about the legal system to appreciate its value.  And when I say "legal system" I am not referring to just the courts, attorneys and lawsuits.  To me the legal system encompasses a knowledge of our rights and responsibilities as citizens and neighbors.  I think that if the general public had a decent understanding of those basic rights and responsibilities, people would have less, not more, interaction with the court system.  For example, I doubt less than one in a thousand high school seniors could explain a lien or an easement.  If they could explain, then maybe they could avoid having liens placed against their property and avoid having to go to court to litigate the issue.

Also, I think the reason there is so much antagonism towards government, at least in this area, is a lack of understanding about how and why rules and regulations are administered and enforced.

Q:  Where does the fault lie? With the schools? The news media? The individual?

A:  The fault lies with everyone.  As citizens we have a basic responsibility to find out what is going on.  As parents we have the responsibility of making sure that our children are educated in this area.  As a school board member I have been making slow but steady progress in convincing the community and the school to implement a civics program. (Around here the local yokels score political points by repeating the well-worn phrase that, "If the schools would just get back to readin', rightin' and 'rithmatic, then our kids would be better-educated.")

Q:  You also talk to high school students about the law. Is there a question and answer format?

A:  When I speak to high school students I use a combination of lecture and Q&A.  I think the kids know enough to know that they don't know enough, so they do listen attentively and wait until they have sufficient information before they formulate questions.

Q:  Are the students receptive?

A:  The students are very receptive.  They are sponges.

Q:  Do they gravitate to certain topics?

A:  The students tend to gravitate towards search and seizure, especially as it relates to their lockers and cars.  I think kids at this age are highly interested in privacy and just how much freedom from intrusion they really have.

Q:  Do the students have an awareness of the two twelve-year-olds you mentioned above? Do they try to make sense of that?

A:  In the two or three years immediately following the episode, the kids in this area had an awareness of the situation.  They had many questions about how the killing occurred, but they were not interested in the legal and social implications of the juvenile justice system.  As far as making sense about what happened, I think the kids, like the rest of the community, felt that the two boys and the situation were an aberration and not reflective of the community.   Now, however, it has been so long ago in kid-years that the kids don't even remember the episode and they are as interested in this subject as they are about the moon landing.

[Go to Top]                                       Attorney Responsibility                                  [Go to End]

Q:  Do you have other ideas on how to educate the public?

A:  I think if we concentrate our efforts in the high schools we will go a long way.  I don't think the media will be a willing player in providing more print space or air time because it's not sexy or violent.  But most importantly I believe that attorneys should step up to the plate.  I think attorneys have a heightened responsibility to make an effort to educate the public - they can do so by writing op-ed pieces for the newspapers, speaking at schools and service clubs, and running for office.  Too often I find that attorneys in this area do not want to rock the boat or appear political because they fear it might hurt their practice.

Q:  What do you see as the benefits to a better-informed citizenry?

A:  A better-informed citizenry can make educated decisions.  When people plan their actions with the knowledge of the possible consequences, they can avoid certain pitfalls or prepare for the fight in advance.  They will have ownership of their decision.  Otherwise, when they are blind-sided by the unknown, they are resentful of the process, they blame the system and not themselves, and we end up with a lot of attorney jokes.


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