A chance to help children in violent or neglectful homes led local prosecutor and former judicial candidate John Norton to seek a job with the Oregon Department of Justice.

A chance to help children in violent or neglectful homes led local prosecutor and former judicial candidate John Norton to seek a job with the Oregon Department of Justice.

The senior deputy district attorney has spent the past eight years prosecuting domestic violence, elder abuse and drug cases for the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.

Norton's focus now will be children whose parents seriously abused or neglected them in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Lake counties.

"I'm really looking forward to it," said Norton.

"I'll be working with kids for the kids."

On March 16, Norton will begin working with state welfare officials on termination-of-parental-rights cases in Southern Oregon.

"In so many domestic-violence cases, the children witnessed the violence and are dealing with it," Norton said. "My work in the district attorney's office really prepared me for this position."

It was Norton's extensive courtroom experience and reputation among his peers that won him the job, State Attorney General John Kroger said.

"John Norton will be a forceful advocate for the most vulnerable children in Southern Oregon," said Kroger. "Protecting children from harm is one of the most fundamental jobs of the Oregon Department of Justice."

Norton applied for the DOJ job after losing his bid for a seat on the Circuit Court bench to former Senior Deputy District Attorney Tim Barnack. During his judicial campaign, Norton spoke often about his five-and-a-half years' experience prosecuting domestic-violence cases for the county.

"There's a lot of highs and lows in that case load," Norton said. "But every once in a while we felt we made a real difference in someone's life."

The job can be frustrating because victims often are reluctant to testify. Victims' fear, concern for finances and feelings of dependency on their abusers are just some of the reasons prosecutors often find it challenging to get convictions in domestic-violence cases, Norton said.

"More often than not, the victims are not cooperative with the state," he said.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions disallowing the use of police statements in court as evidence by deeming it hearsay has made the job even tougher, Norton said.

"It used to be we could prosecute an offender without the victim based on the police statements," said Norton. "But the U.S. Supreme Court said it violated the defendant's rights."

District Attorney Mark Huddleston praised and congratulated Norton on his appointment.

"It's a good career opportunity for John," said Huddleston. "Of course, we will miss his expertise."

Huddleston earlier this year appointed Norton's wife, Terry Smith-Norton, to take Barnack's case load. Norton's position has been posted and will be filled after he leaves on March 13, Huddleston said.

A graduate of Beaverton High School, Linfield College and the University of Oregon Law School, Norton previously worked in the Crook County District Attorney's Office before moving to Jackson County.

"I loved being a prosecutor for Jackson County," said Norton. "It's been great working with the folks here. But it's time for me to do something different."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.