Singer encourages voters to learn about the two candidates for Washington County district attorney.

COURTESY SACHYN MITAL - John Legend, a Grammy and Academy Award winning songwriter, has campaigned for criminal justice reform for years. The race for Washington County's district attorney has drawn plenty of big names in the past few months.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight donated $100,000 to candidate Kevin Barton's campaign this month, and New York political activist and billionaire George Soros is tied to hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing into the coffers of candidate Max Wall, a Beaverton defense attorney vying for the seat.

But on Friday another well-known name got involved in the race: Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter John Legend.

On Friday, May 11, Legend released a new video on Twitter, urging voters in Oregon to get to know the candidates in the race.

"Oregon, you have the power to elect a government official who is dedicated to reforming criminal justice in your community," he said in the two-minute video.

Legend doesn't mention either candidate by name in the video, instead speaking generally about the role district attorney's play and the importance of criminal justice reform.

District attorneys have wide power to decide how, or even if, suspects are charged with alleged crimes. Much of the video comes from the American Civil Liberties Union's 'Meet Your DA' campaign, which launched last year.

"Despite state and federal laws, the influential power they carry allows them to prioritize or de-prioritize how those laws are enforced and who they are enforced against," Legend said. "They literally have the power to change a person's life forever. They choose how high bail will be, based on the charges they decide to file. The choices they make can mean the difference between spending a few months or years in jail or spending life in prison."

Legend has been a vocal proponent of criminal justice reform across the country, calling for an end to mass encarceration in favor of second-chance programs and rehabilitation.

Legend won an Academy Award in 2015 for best original song for the film, "Glory," about Martin Luther King, Jr. That same year he launched FreeAmerica, which aims to bring about criminal justice reform across the nation.

Last summer, Legend worked with the ACLU on the "Meet Your DA" campaign to introduce California voters to the importance of district attorneys.

The race for Washington County district attorney is the most expensive in Oregon history. Tuesday's election is the first contested race for the seat in decades, and one of only two contested district attorney races in Oregon this year.

Barton, the county's chief deputy district attorney, has led a charge to form a digital forensics lab to work with law enforcement, and helped launch a veteran's court this year. He has said he'd like the department to do more outreach with the public to better understand what goes on in the county's courthouse and the responsibilities of a district attorney.

Wall has pointed to black marks in the agency's recent history, including District Attorney Bob Hermann's decision to allow a police officer convicted of beating his son to change his conviction to a lesser crime so he could continue carrying a gun while on duty, a decision which Barton fought against, according to The Oregonian newspaper.

Barton has pushed Wall hard on his campaign financing, claiming for months that Wall has been funded by Soros, who has backed several reform-minded candidates across the country in the past few years.

Wall has denied accusations that his campaign is being influenced by national interests, and has said that contributions from out-of-state groups show a desire to change Washington County's culture of throwing the book at suspected criminals.

The vast majority of Wall's sizeable war chest has been donated by the Oregon Law & Justice PAC, a local organization with ties to Soros. That committee has contributed roughly 86 percent of Wall's $450,000 campaign coffers, according to the Secretary of State's office.

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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