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Crime victims’ rights disputed after plea deal nixed by judge

In the nearly two months since a former Ashland police detective objected to a probation-only plea deal for a Central Point babysitter who left his young child with lasting injuries, the babysitter’s defense lawyers have sought a different judge and are seeking to limit the victim’s rights in future court proceedings.

No trial date has yet been set in the case of Janell Leah Burns, 48, who faces felony assault and criminal mistreatment charges accusing her of causing severe head injuries to a toddler under her care in May 2017 that left the child blind in one eye.

Burns was slated to change her plea to guilty on a mistreatment charge following negotiations; however, Judge David Orr refused Feb. 26 to move forward with the agreement negotiated between Burns’ defense lawyers and the Douglas County District Attorney’s office.

Behind Orr’s decision, the judge stated on the record, was a 10-page objection filed by a Portland victims’ rights lawyer representing the child’s father, former Ashland police detective Aaron Rosas.

Orr told prosecutors and defense lawyers that they’re welcome to try another judge during the Feb. 26 hearing, but that he couldn’t "come to terms with this resolution.”

Burns’ defense lawyer, Christine Kantas Herbert, has since sought a different judge and is also seeking to have the Rosas family’s objection stricken from the court record.

In a motion filed March 22, she argued that the Rosas family’s lawyer, Erin Olson of Portland, “inappropriately and unlawfully interrupted the course of plea discussions ... impermissibly interfering with defendant’s (Burns’) right to due process.”

Herbert argued that victims are “an important component of the justice system,” but are not at the same level as a party in a criminal court proceeding.

Herbert stated that under the Oregon Constitution, victims of violent felonies have the right to be present and notified in advance of key proceedings held in open court, and the right to be consulted regarding plea negotiations.

The right to be consulted, however, “does not include the right to participate in plea discussions between the parties,” Herbert stated.

Olson, who has represented the Rosas family for the child in civil court proceedings and as the victims’ rights attorney in Burns’ criminal case, defended her clients’ rights earlier this month.

“The days when crime victims were required to behave like good Victorian children — seen but not heard — are over,” Olson wrote in an April 9 filing.

Olson argued that the objection the Rosas family filed the day of the Feb. 26 hearing was within her clients’ rights.

“In this case, the victims exercised their right to be heard regarding the plea agreement in part through the filing of a written objection in advance of the plea hearing,” Olson wrote.

Olson defended Orr’s decision not to move forward with the plea agreement. She argued that a trial court is not constitutionally obligated to accept a guilty plea, nor is there a constitutional requirement for the court to honor a plea agreement.

Burns’ next appearance is a settlement conference scheduled for May 21, court records show. A pretrial conference is scheduled for the following week.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.