For the first time, the top places in criminal justice in Oregon and Jackson County are held by women.

For the first time, the top places in criminal justice in Oregon and Jackson County are held by women.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall and Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert all ascended to their posts this year.

Heckert is joined by Kris Allison, Central Point's first female police chief, and two judges on the Circuit Court, Lisa Greif and Pat Crain, not to mention several prosecuting attorneys who are women.

While the women acknowledge this represents a gender shift from decades past, they say more progress is needed in professions that continue to be predominantly male.

"We're all where we are because we deserve it," says Marshall. "But it would seem ungrateful not to acknowledge this significant change."

Nominated for the position by President Barack Obama, Marshall, 43, assumed office in October 2011. She's one of 21 female U.S. attorneys, who make up 23 percent of the 93 attorneys throughout the nation and its territories.

"In my mind, we still have a long way to go," she says.

Ellen Rosenblum, 62, graduated law school in the mid-1970s. It has taken decades for women to ascend to the top leadership positions in the state, she says, because newly fledged attorneys were acquiring the necessary work experience while society slowly shifted its perspective on the professional female.

"I'm really pleased to be the first" female attorney general in Oregon, Rosenblum says. "But I'd be more pleased to be the 10th."

Heckert, 50, handily beat her two male candidates in the 2012 primary election. She has been with the DA's office for her entire 25-year career, during which she's seen "big changes."

"When I first started, there weren't any women judges, and only two women police officers," Heckert says, adding she was often mistaken for a secretary in her early days as a prosecutor.

Now the DA's office is one-third female, and about half of law school attendees are women, Heckert says.

"But I remember those early days where I'd be talking to someone about a case, and they'd say, 'OK, honey, that's very nice. But I'd like to talk to the lawyer now,' " Heckert says, shaking her head.

"I don't know if I was really offended. But I do remember saying, 'Sir, you have been talking to the lawyer.' "

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Pat Crain became the county's second female judge after being a practicing attorney in the county for 20 years. Crain, now 65, failed in her 1984 election bid for a judge's seat. Crain was appointed to her seat by the governor in 1997 and has been re-elected ever since.

"I was one of the big bulge of women who went to law school in the '70s," Crain says.

Crain says she opened her own law practice in 1977 because she was warned she'd never get hired by local firms.

"Now law firms are seeking out women," Crain says.

The first female criminal defense attorney to visit clients in the county jail, Crain says sheriff's deputies were unnerved at the notion of a woman attorney being alone in the jail's "tiny rooms" with potentially violent offenders.

"We worked it out. I think there is a difference in perspective by the public more than a real difference in how women perform on the job," Crain says.

The adversarial nature of the justice system caused at least one male attorney to feel at odds with his upbringing and his duty to his clients, she says. In one of her early cases, the opposing attorney told Crain he did not think women should practice law.

"I didn't know at first if he was just trying to get in my head, or if he really felt that way. But I decided it was going to be his problem," Crain says.

Crain and the unnamed attorney quickly became "great friends." He later explained the "horns of his dilemma," Crain says.

"He said, 'If I'm being polite to you, I'm not doing my job for my client. And if I'm not, I feel like I'm picking on a woman,' " she says.

Today, Crain is one of 74 female judges — or 40 percent — of 187 judges in Oregon, according to the National Association of Women Judges.

Lisa Greif is the only other woman on Jackson County's nine-member Circuit Court. At 39, she's also one of the youngest, elected four years ago. She says she had more "push back" from her age than her gender.

"I believe young whippersnappers can accomplish a lot," she says.

The daughter of a Portland attorney, Greif says there were "only three women" in her father's 1970 graduating class. Decades later, she attended "progressive schools" that promoted women entering professional fields, Greif says.

"I felt like I could have been whatever I wanted," Greif says, adding her female counterparts became business leaders, economists, psychologists, doctors and engineers.

"We still keep in touch and are very supportive of one another," she says.

Still, Greif says she finds it intriguing that she and Crain have sought out positions in Family Court handling juvenile, dependency and drug/alcohol treatment caseloads.

"It is interesting that all the boys (male judges) are across the street (in the Circuit Court)," Greif says.

Marshall spent a decade advocating for Oregon children as an assistant attorney general before Obama tapped her for the state's top federal prosecutor. Perceptions that women are "pigeon-holed" into doing "chick law" are laughable, she says. In fact, she says, these are the cases that can "actually make a difference in people's lives."

"There is nothing more important than working with children and families," she says. "I make no apologies."

Rosenblum, a judge for 22 years, says her goal is to emphasize the needs of families and children within the Department of Justice by stepping up the battle against elder financial abuse and securing funding for a new computer system for the Child Support Division, which handles more than $1 million a day in child-support payments.

"Just call me Mother Bear," Rosenblum says. "I plan on protecting the young and the elderly."

Greif says she and Crain have both been "across the street" handling major criminal cases. But their current caseloads "just happen to be a good fit for us," she says.

"I hope it isn't a gender thing," Greif says. "This is where we do good work. And the (male judges) don't seem to mind it. I don't know if there's a lot of interest from the other judges to take on this caseload."

Greif also noted the differences in programs available for boys and girls in the justice system. The county's only youth residential treatment program offering cognitive behavioral therapy is for boys, she says.

"It's unfair we don't have that program for girls," Greif says, adding the converse is true for mentoring programs.

"We have Rose Circle (and other programs) for girls. And I don't feel like we have as many for the boys."

Central Point police Chief Kris Allison, 39, began training for a career in law enforcement in 1992. Hired in Lincoln City, along with another female officer, in 1997, Allison says she was considered "a completely different animal."

"I had officers who told me they didn't want to train me, and who didn't believe in women being in law enforcement," Allison says.

The gender split between male and female attorneys has leveled out more quickly than in law enforcement positions.

"There is no question this is a male-dominated position," Allison says.

According to the National Center for Women in Policing, women make up 14.3 percent of sworn law enforcement positions nationwide and only 5.6 percent of sworn top command positions.

Hired in Central Point in 1998, Allison rose up the ranks for her department before being tapped to become chief in 2012.

"What I am most proud of is that I'm the first officer who has risen through the ranks," Allison says. "I want to walk in here and not see gender, race or anything."

Allison still faces gender stereotyping when attending seminars and meetings. Unless she is wearing her uniform, she is "always assumed to be in a professional support role," Allison says.

"They think I'm the secretary," she says. "I have to tell them, 'No, I am the chief.' "

Allison says she has never had a problem standing up for herself, nor has she allowed others' perceptions of her abilities to hold her back.

"If someone tried to close the front door, I just looked at side doors," Allison says, adding if all else failed, she was not adverse to more drastic entries.

"Sometimes you have to make a dynamic entry in through the wall," Allison says.

Heckert and Allison discussed the challenges of coming into a leadership position from within a department.

Both have changed a few policies and reassigned caseloads. They say the shifts were done with an eye on their staff members' individual personalities, to increase productivity and accommodate long-range planning goals.

"Beth and I met and were both saying, 'What can we do to look at this from five to 10 years down the road?' " Allison says.

Neither knew whether the changes she made were in any way based on her gender.

"Male and female attributes are different," Allison says. "But I am told I have more male attributes. I have a Type-A personality, and I am very goal-driven."

Marshall says assigning gender stereotyping is a slippery slope. A woman's best mentor can be male, and her naysayer can be female. It was "a well-intentioned woman" who advised the mother of three young sons against accepting the president's nomination, Marshall says.

"She said I should pull out because I would never see my kids," Marshall says. "Do you think they would ever ask a man how he was going to balance his work and family life?"

Marshall recently heard a female lawyer praising a male attorney for coming in late, leaving early and taking time off during the day to attend his family duties, she says.

"My experience, as a woman, is the opposite. You're always over-compensating," Marshall says. "You always have your cellphone, Blackberry right with you because you don't want anyone to think you're slacking."

Heckert considered the issue of "overcompensating." There have been times when she felt compelled not to show emotion because it might be perceived as weakness — particularly at a horrific crime scene or during difficult court proceedings, she says. People view the world through a prism of their own experiences. As a parent and as a spouse, it can impact how close a case hits to home, Heckert says.

"When I meet with a victim, or at sentencing where someone has lost a child, I'll feel like I shouldn't cry, because I don't want to be seen as emotional," Heckert says. "But I've seen men get emotional, too. It's just humanity."

Heckert, a mother of two adult sons, says she has worked since she was 14 years old. She also worked throughout both pregnancies, up until her due date. She returned to the DA's office from maternity leave to a male-oriented office that was not quite sure how to handle a female attorney with an infant son in tow.

"I put him in a playpen in my office while I did my work," Heckert says. "If he started crying too much, I picked my son up and took him home and finished my work there. But staying home and not working was not something I seriously considered."

Marshall, like Heckert, says she was grateful she could rely upon her husband to step up and assist with parenting duties. Marshall says single moms are often the hardest working employees she has ever known.

"They are the most productive people in my office," Marshall says.

Marshall says, for her, finding a perfect "balance" between home, family and self-care remains an elusive goal. She is frequently tired, drinks too much coffee, and is hoping her new running regime will help, she says.

"I wouldn't change anything about my life," Marshall says. "But balance is not the word I would use to describe my life."

All six women described themselves as goal-driven, results-oriented and highly motivated to make their community better.

"I'm very proud of the women in our profession," says Rosenblum.

"What's great is diversity," Marshall says. "The variety of perspective around women, men, old, young, different religions, ethnicities. The plurality of perspectives is what makes for great decision-making."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or