The Blue Mountain Eagle | Scotta Callister

CANYON CITY – A new public defender is on the job in Grant County, but he’s not unfamiliar with the territory – or the job.

Robert Raschio’s first job as a lawyer was in Grant County, when then-public defender Markku Sario hired him as an associate in 2001. From there, his career took him out of the area, but he retained fond memories and family ties to this part of Eastern Oregon.

Last year, with Sario retiring, the Oregon Public Defense Services was looking for a new contractor to take on indigent defense in this area. Raschio was granted the contract, which covers criminal cases in Grant County and conflict cases in Harney County.

Raschio and his wife, Sena, who grew up in Burns, saw it as a great opportunity.

“We decided this was the right move for us,” he said. “This is a great place to live.”

Sena, who is a teacher, and their children – 6-year-old Vincent and Annabelle, 18 months – will join Raschio after the school year ends.

Raschio began work in Grant County in January, and is in the process of buying Sario’s office on Humbolt Street, near the courthouse in Canyon City.

He says the transition has been smooth, noting he knows and has worked with most of the lawyers, many of the court clerks and even the judge in Grant and Harney counties.

Raschio said he is committed to the concept of indigent defense, and the system’s foundational assertion that people are “innocent until proven guilty.”

“Democracy doesn’t work if people aren’t provided someone to assist them when they are accused of a crime,” he said.

Calling it the same concept behind the golden rule, he said, “It’s something that suits me philosophically and morally.”

He expects to bring another lawyer into the practice soon, and says training younger lawyers is part of his charge. In addition to the contract work, Raschio will take on private clients.

Raschio, 41, comes to the post after 7-1/2 years in The Dalles, where he was a shareholder in the firm Morris Smith Starns Raschio and Sullivan. During that time he was a two-term president of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and president of the local bar association.

A native of Clackamas County, Raschio earned his bachelor’s degree at Portland State University and law degree from the University of Oregon.

He had worked with Sario for about a year when he got several other job offers including one from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. He opted instead for a more rural locale, taking a job with the firm of Gordon Mallon and John Lamborn. He stayed with that office for more than four years.

He met his wife in Burns; they were wed in 2006.

They moved to The Dalles in 2006; Raschio felt he needed to be nearer to family in Milwaukie, as his father was ill.

Now the move to Grant County will bring the couple closer to Sena’s family.

In the Grant County job, Raschio said he has impressive shoes to fill.

“Markku gave 14 years of his life here, and did some incredible work for the people of Grant County,” Raschio said. “He did great work and showed a lot of compassion. And he was a helluva mentor for me.”