Burden of Proof
Attorneys take note: There is something very wrong with your licensor, the Oregon State Bar, and its handling of Client Security Fund (CSF) claims made against disgraced attorney Lori Deveny.
And it’s costing honest attorneys both money and respect.
The Bar manages the CSF and pays out money to reimburse victims for losses caused by attorney misconduct, up to $50,000 per claim. As one may imagine, Deveny — indicted in both state and federal court on more than a hundred charges of theft, fraud, forgery, etc. — is hitting the CSF quite hard. Deveny’s smash-and-grab already amounts to over $3.5 million dollars in stolen funds, and that is just what is known as of this writing.¹
The Bar has been approving these claims long before Deveny agreed to plead to the state charges earlier this summer — usually, a civil judgment or criminal conviction is necessary for payment of a CSF claim.
However, one of these claims was recently denied by the Bar: a claim for $17,600 that was stolen by Deveny from her clients Alex and Ashley Smith of Tillamook. The circumstances surrounding the denial are disturbing: Mr. Smith first learned about Deveny’s theft from the U.S. Department of Justice Victim Notification System.
Shockingly, that email came in January 2020 — more than a year after the Bar claimed it had taken custody of the smoking ruins of Deveny’s former legal practice, and claimed to have contacted every one of her clients to notify them of her effective disbarment. That was supposedly in October 2018.
But Smith received no such notice from the Bar in 2018 or 2019 or 2020.
When pressed, the Bar now claims to have sent a letter to Smith in January 2019, which Smith insists he did not receive. Had he received a letter, he would have acted upon the information immediately. Despite hearing nothing in return from their “first” letter, the Bar made no second attempt to contact Smith — even after their alleged re-inventory of all of Deveny’s files in the Bar’s possession in November 2019, and even after hiring an investigator to locate the outstanding clients.
Back to the Smiths’ CSF claim, the Bar denied it on the basis that the Smiths could not prove that they did not receive the money.
Read that again.
It is incomprehensible that the Bar demanded that the Smiths jump through this impossible hoop — one which no other victim had been made to jump through. How on earth does one go about demonstrating that they did not receive money? Even the Smiths’ bank statements from that time would not prove such a thing.
It is also unfathomable that the Bar was unmoved that Smith had been identified — by the U.S. Attorney — as a crime victim in the federal case.
The ‘investigation’ that the Bar did on the Smiths’ claim shows that Deveny issued a check to the Smiths for $16,015.19, but that the check was never endorsed. The Bar also looked through records of Deveny’s “number of bank accounts,” to see if Deveny “had found a way to embezzle the funds.”
Somehow, in the Smiths’ case, the Bar is willing to believe the word of a disgraced former attorney and put the burden of proof on her victims.
Apparently, the Bar thinks it is wiser than federal prosecutors.
Alex Smith received a letter today from Courtney Dippel, Disciplinary Counsel of the Bar, affirming their denial of the Smiths’ claim.
As had been the case with her predecessor, former Bar General Counsel Amber Hollister,² Dippel took care not to say anything bad about the Bar’s good friend, Lori Deveny, noting that “Deveny has not yet entered a guilty plea in either the state or federal proceedings.”
Dippel then shifted blame back onto the Smiths, admonishing that they “did not produce evidence that you and Ms. [Smith] were not paid,” and stating that they “bear the burden of demonstrating the loss.” Again, this was not a hurdle that any other Deveny victims had to clear.
The Smiths, who are very good people and who do not deserve to be victimized again by the Bar’s incomprehensible protection of Deveny, are looking into avenues of further appeal. They should not have to go to such extreme lengths when the Bar’s Client Security Fund was set up to help people exactly like them, in exactly this kind of situation.
None of this instills public confidence in the Oregon State Bar. Their licensees must demand better — before the public loses confidence in Oregon attorneys as well.
¹ I received “current” and “complete” CSF claim spreadsheets just yesterday, and they do not appear to be complete. That is to say, the Bar appears to be concealing additional claims.
² Amber Hollister, who apparently mishandled each and every thing related to Lori Deveny’s CSF claims and custodianship, recently resigned from the Bar and is now working as an associate general counsel at a Hillsboro digital display manufacturer… which sounds precisely suitable for her. And until Hollister’s unique skillset is replaced at the Bar, Deputy General Counsel Nik Choury is unable to handle CSF claims on his own.