NLEC Profile: Madras District Attorney Steve Leriche

In many ways Steve Leriche looks every bit the DA out on the prairie — which as the elected prosecutor of sprawling Jefferson County in the high plains of Central Oregon, he pretty much is.

Standing well over six-feet tall, with broad shoulders but a shy smile, he quietly takes care of business as a professional prosecutor from the high plains – in this case spectacular Central Oregon that looks out from the Three Sister Wilderness Area, to Mt. Jefferson, and the famous Deschutes River. Steve Leriche serves as the elected District Attorney of Jefferson County, also home of Warm Springs Oregon’s largest Indian Reservation.

Steve Leriche, right

Leriche does not fit the stereotype many would have of a man who is particularly soft on pets and farm animals, even though the latter may outnumber the approximately 21,000 humans. “Growing up, I had horses,” Leriche recalls, “I was in 4-H and our family had cats and dogs that were part of the family. Many would not consider Leriche, a generally conservative prosecutor in what passes for a “Cowboy County” in rural Oregon to be a big advocate for fighting animal cruelty.

But he is.

“Growing up I learned that our relationship with animals is very important, “Leriche explained, who is both a hunter and a fisherman. He is one of many advocates against cruelty to animals who do not fit the stereotype of the all-vegan city dweller. Leriche believes that when people of all political beliefs and social backgrounds get behind the idea of fighting cruelty, the world will be a better, more decent, more livable place.

Leriche was recruited onto the Animal Wellness Action’s National Law Enforcement Council by a long-time friend and recently retired district attorney, Josh Marquis, a non-hunter, who has been prosecuting animal cruelty cases since he got his law license in 1981. Although Leriche, Marquis and other men and women on the NLEC may vary in their attitudes towards the use of animals as food and in human products, they all agree that decent and humane treatment is the hallmark of a lawful and benevolent society. “The teenager who starts kicking the neighborhood dogs for fun, all too often becomes the adult doing the same thing to their significant others and children,” Leriche explained.

Leriche was one of those students with what he called his “kindergarten through law school plan” and unlike many, he remained remarkably focused. He graduated from the law school of the University of Oregon in Eugene in 1990. Leriche admits that he, initially as a law student, “had no idea what he wanted to do with his various degrees.” But he took a path unusual for those young enough to have no memory of the draft.

Although he received no financial benefit in law school, Leriche became part of the United States Army’s Direct Commissioning Program, which takes certain credentialed professionals, including lawyers and doctors, an after Officers Training directly commissions them as lieutenants

“I was not ready to be a regular suit wearing lawyer and the adventure and experience of the army appealed to me,” Leriche explained and although he was not committed for a particular length of time he spent nearly eight years moving up to the rank of Major. He worked cases that ranged from divorces to prosecuting criminal charges in cases with involving cocaine cartels — whose thugs even attacked his superior. That unfortunate circumstance moved Leriche to a supervisory role first in Panama, then at Ft Lewis, Wash., which is home to Joint Base Lewis McCord.

Leriche’s next assignment at Fort Sill, Okla. eventually led to his departure from the army. While doing a court-martial at Fort Campbell, Ky. his wife called him from a bathtub, she was hiding with their infant son to avoid an oncoming Tornado, Leriche looked to the much climatically safer plains of Oregon where he took a job as Chief Deputy DA in 1998. His boss retired 10 years later and Leriche was elected the District Attorney and has been re-elected ever since.

Living with animals, both as companions, and co-workers, is part of that region’s lifestyle and Leriche said he never forgot his father childhood stories about growing up on a dairy farm in Vermont and the importance animals played in their survival.

While Leriche may look and even be more the cowboy than most of the couple dozen other lawyers on AWA’s NLEC, he is anxious to use his resources to aggressively enforce the laws that forbid cruelty to all animals and require the basic decency that we expect of all his constituents.

Leriche believes that when people of all political beliefs and social backgrounds get behind the idea of fighting cruelty, the world will be a better, more decent, more livable place.

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