Oregon’s Constitution is admirably clear and brief in describing how justice must be administered in the state’s courts. Section 10 reads: “No court shall be secret, but justice shall be administered, openly and without purchase, completely and without delay, and every man shall have remedy by due course of law for injury done him in his person, property, or reputation.”
We find it somewhat disconcerting, then, to note that this week the person who pleaded guilty to starting a fire last September that burned 49,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge and destroyed four homes was ordered to pay $36.6 million in restitution — and yet we don’t know his name.
The 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, Washington, who admitted sparking the Eagle Creek fire by tossing two fireworks into desiccated brush, is listed in court records as A.B. Which is another way of saying that his real name is being withheld. Some people — we’re among them — would also describe this as keeping a secret.
Both police and court officials justify the secrecy by noting the widespread anger at the teenager, expressed largely on social media.
This is not sufficient reason for sidestepping the state Constitution.
It’s nonsensical for the government to impose an immense financial penalty on the teenager — he’ll almost certainly never repay anything but a tiny fraction of the amount, of course — yet continue to protect his identity.
We also find it illogical to imply that this one boy faces a greater risk of retaliation than dozens of juveniles who have committed more serious crimes, including murder, but whose names were disclosed.
Oregon officials ought not to let hysterical Facebook posts supersede their legal obligation to uphold the state’s Constitution.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.