All Fixed Up And Nowhere To Go

*** Read the latest on the criminal case against Lori Deveny, click here.

Last week I teased a comprehensive article about the problem of case-fixing in Oregon courts. It is now officially a series.

This case-fixing is arranged on behalf of attorneys — even the disgraced ones. It appears to be managed by their licensor, the Oregon State Bar (OSB), because of money: mandatory malpractice insurance money that the OSB administers. And, evidently, even in cases that aren’t about malpractice money, the fixing apparatus is still used to limit the financial liability of the OSB’s select attorney friends.

Former attorney Lori Deveny is one of those elite friends.

When she was finally revealed as a complete fraud in 2018, the OSB went to eyebrow-raising lengths to help cushion her fall from grace: helping her pay her way out of early bar complaints; publishing misleading Bulletin articles to distract from her smoking crater; refusing to prosecute her for practicing law after she resigned her license; and when none of that worked, misusing an Oregon statute (and usurping the Supreme Court’s authority) to take custodianship of her practice — apparently to shelter evidence of her criminal escapades.

Perhaps most breathtaking was the OSB’s decree that Deveny had “earned” her 33% contingency fee, even in cases she had hastily settled in her own interests, and in which she had forged clients’ signatures and stolen their settlement checks.

It’s actually spooky how inept and/or crooked the OSB is willing to look to protect Deveny at the expense of protecting the public. It made me wonder if I could easily find traces of their fingerprints in civil court cases. The answer is, of course, yes.

Multnomah case no. 18CV54964: Debra Kali Miller v. Lori Deveny

This lawsuit was filed in November 2018 by her former client, Kali Miller, who is also one of the dozens of victims named in the State’s criminal case against Deveny (see counts 73 through 75).

Deveny was hired to work on a claim for a 2013 car accident in which Miller suffered significant injuries. The “work” Deveny ended up doing was forging Miller’s signature on an insurance settlement check and pocketing the money, while leaving Miller with health insurance liens and expiring statutes of limitations in a second matter.

Bizarrely, the attorney who filed the $600,000 suit for Miller, Jose Cienfuegos, claimed that Deveny’s conduct (forgery and theft!) amounted to “negligence.” To be clear, there was nothing “negligent” about Deveny’s actions, and if he thought he was being clever going after the OSB’s delicious malpractice money, he was wrong.

After Deveny was served with the suit, though, she failed to appear — as did the OSB’s malpractice defense attorney who should have immediately materialized, if for no other reason than to quickly dispose of the malpractice claim. (The OSB’s insurance program does not cover intentional tortious conduct. It’s weird that no OSB attorney appeared to say precisely that.)

Cienfuegos then moved for a default win against Deveny, for her failure to appear and defend Miller’s lawsuit. However, the proposed order that Cienfuegos submitted had his own signature in the place where the judge would need to sign. It is lawyering 101 not to make such a ridiculous mistake.

The court asked him to resubmit the order and also cure a host of other defects with his default motion. Cienfuegos quickly corrected the issues and resubmitted the filings.

But the order granting Miller a default win then went unsigned for over a year. It appears it went unsigned because court staff withheld it from the judge during that time.

During that year, Cienfuegos could have politely reminded the court about the unresolved motion for default. But he did not. Instead, in April 2020, he inexplicably filed an amended complaint with an updated “prayer” amount, raising it to $712,850. The filing also apparently “reset” the clock for Deveny and her OSB attorney to appear, which they did just a few weeks later.

Cienfuegos did not respond to my questions about why he filed an amended complaint instead of simply poking the court for the default.¹ Court staff did not respond to me about why nothing was signed for a full year. The OSB’s attorney did not respond to me to cite any authority which would allow him to appear, without consequences, over a year and a half after the matter was filed. It’s all very, very curious.

That OSB attorney, Barrett Mersereau, also has not filed any response to Cienfuegos’ amended complaint in the past year. The only thing that has happened in the case since Mersereau’s appearance is Cienfuegos’ disappearance: He filed a motion to allow his withdrawal in October 2020.

That motion was granted in less than a week, leaving Kali Miller all alone in the case. It seems that there are some things that court staff will put in front of a judge to sign very quickly.

Kali Miller told me, “When I learned that Deveny was being represented by the bar insurance at no cost to her I was horrified and once again damaged by the system as her attorney tries to negotiate a pittance of what she owes me.”

Multnomah case no. 18CV30554: KeyBank National v. Lori Deveny

This was a breach of contract suit brought because Deveny stiffed her bank on a $35,000 line of credit. It had nothing to do with legal malpractice, and therefore the OSB could not send in one of their defense attorneys.

Deveny was personally served with the suit in July 2018, and she failed to appear. KeyBank’s attorney then moved for a default order and judgment against Deveny as soon as allowed by rule, and timely cured various minor defects with the motion and proposed order over the next several months.

But, similar to Kali Miller’s matter, the order of default went unsigned by a judge for over a year — again, as though it was being kept from the judge by court staff.

Then something truly bonkers happened: The case was dismissed, without any written (or verbal) notice to KeyBank, “for want of prosecution.” The General Judgment of Dismissal stated that a 28-day notice was issued, but this is false: There is no such notice of dismissal in the record.

KeyBank’s attorney then had to go through the hassle (and expense) of moving to vacate the dismissal and reopen the case; and then move anew for a default judgment against Deveny.

That was in June 2020. At time of publication of this article, that judgment remains unsigned by the court, and KeyBank cannot collect what Deveny owes without it.

It’s the irregularities.

I didn’t have to work hard to find these two cases, because their dockets were just clearly irregular, like visible-from-space irregular. (I ordered and read both case files to ensure that I wasn’t missing anything. I was not.)

Courts follow explicit rules and procedures in their administration of justice. When a matter careens wildly off those well-worn tracks, it is not because the court has simply and suddenly forgotten how to be a court.² (And for now, I’m going to ignore the problems of Cienfuegos suddenly forgetting how proposed orders work and Mersereau suddenly forgetting how ORCP Rules 7 and 69 work.)

It is court staff that keeps a court running smoothly and it is court staff that can derail it from doing so, when they want: pushing this on a judge or withholding that from a judge or falsely claiming that a notice was sent when it wasn’t etc. It is always court staff. It is almost never judges themselves, or any naturally-occurring prejudice. The prejudice is deliberately sown.

And everything described in these cases are not mistakes: They are deliberate and careful actions designed to benefit Deveny while denying her opponents justice and the money they are entitled to by default.

Former attorney Lori Deveny — disgraced and facing over 100 criminal charges in state and federal court — does not have the kind of clout necessary to pull off these types of hijinks. Someone is coordinating these spectacles on her behalf, apparently unconcerned about how bad it is making Multnomah County Circuit Court look.

Oh gosh, who has that kind of influence and doesn’t care about appearances, so long as Deveny is insulated from the consequences of her conduct? Hrmm.

Correct: It appears to be coordinated by the OSB, who utterly refused to protect the public from Deveny — and who still refuses to say a single bad word about their friend in the reams of material they’ve been forced to publish regarding her conduct.³

Because of the lengths the Oregon State Bar is willing to go on behalf of Deveny — or, better yet, the depths — we must assume that the stakes are far higher than we currently understand them to be.

¹ Why on earth would you amend the complaint prayer amount upwards instead of securing a judgment for your client? Especially in regards to Deveny, who many are now worried is “judgment-proof.”

² Things can and do slip through the cracks of a busy courthouse, but that cannot explain what happened with the dismissal of KeyBank’s matter.

³ Presently I am working on a longer piece about the OSB’s custodianship of Deveny’s former practice, Multnomah Case no. 18CV48680; and plan on another regarding Multnomah Case no. 17PB09149, in which Deveny was the decedent’s personal representative. What could possibly go wrong!

Also, if you’ve made it this far, check out the case-fixing going on against my family.

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Stephanie Volin

Stephanie Volin

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