Fighting Back Against Legal Aggression
Last month, I sat down at my computer and warily began to read through hundreds of emails that related to a family case in Oregon’s Polk County Circuit Court. The communications were obtained by a carefully worded public records request and yielded emails between the judge, court staff, the attorneys, and others in the case.
The case, which I have previously written about, is one of those cases in which one party is the victim of the other’s legal and administrative aggression and feigned victimhood. This disturbingly effective tactic utilizes emotional and psychological manipulation of people by maneuvering them beyond simple [useless] sympathy into a position to bend or break the law for an abuser’s benefit.
This scheme is employed by malignant types who prey upon those that are supposed to remain neutral in family cases, like court clerks, doctor’s office managers, and school officials. This scheme frequently results in a wagon thoroughly circled by these well-meaning but sadly impressionable types… so much so that the abuser is then rewarded by an impressed judge who overlooks the path it took to get there.
These cases are visible from space: they’re the ones with the mile-long skid-mark of a docket. Crude yes, but really, they are pretty much unmistakable, often featuring motions to compel basic discovery, dueling contempt motions, and attorneys burning through their law licenses in slow-motion.
One of the attorneys in the Polk County case, Megan M. Perry, was recently disbarred, having submitted her resignation rather than contest the sixteen separate investigations that were the culmination of her very brief legal career. She was the “smirking attorney” whose client had formed a mob behind her, and who tried to make a witness seem crazy for talking about it on the stand.
When I wrote that article, I wasn’t comfortable admitting that I was the witness, and that the “friend” whose case it was is my partner. There was no real reason not to disclose it then, and there certainly isn’t any reason now.
I can also now admit that I was completely traumatized by this attorney, but even more so by the judge, Sally L. Avera. At one point while I was on the stand and hesitant to answer a question, she screamed at me like I was on trial for murder and she was a prosecutor. At one point, she threatened me with jail. Again, this was a family case, and she and Ms. Perry beat me like a piñata over something that was not in evidence or even being alleged. The impropriety and prejudice that Ms. Avera displayed was astounding.
The good news is that she is no longer a judge. Whether or not this case was her actual undoing is still unclear, but the record of events certainly suggests that it was her Waterloo. Regardless, Ms. Avera did not possess the intellectually flexibility nor the capacity to detect fraud necessary for a career in the field of Deciding Important Stuff.
The memory of being screamed at by a judge while a soon-to-be-disbarred attorney smirked at me was in the forefront of my mind when I reluctantly sat down to read their communications.
A few emails into the task, I read this rapid-fire exchange between Ms. Perry and Ms. Avera’s judicial assistant, Tracey Eastlund. It was sent seconds after the very end of the three-day trial, the final moments of which were spent trying to arrange a last minute visit between the victim of spousal abuse and his son, while the abuser opined about her symphony tickets:
Perry email: “Your boss has the patience of a saint.”
Eastlund email: “:-)Have a nice afternoon…I’m off until Monday! Going to get a Margarita or 5 now”
Perry email: “You’ve earned it!!! Have a great weekend.”
Okay, that was mildly inappropriate and ill-advised, especially since Ms. Avera had only a half-year prior sanctioned Ms. Perry for misconduct including witness-tampering and communicating with represented parties. I arched an eyebrow, flagged the email, and pressed onward.
A few clicks later and I was suddenly facing email impropriety that hit a major nerve: it occurred during my own testimony referenced in the article above. I quickly realized that it would be of benefit to listen to the audio recordings of the trial to see what set off the exchange, which was between Ms. Eastlund and the parenting coordinator in the case, Salem attorney Tahra Sinks and her assistant Tony.
During the five minutes leading up to the opening email, I talked about Munchausen by proxy (now known as factitious disorder imposed on another); my belief that Ms. Perry’s client was a perpetrator of it; the deliberate withholding of medical records by them; and their false claims of having sent subpoenas to “all the area medical providers” in an effort to disprove the allegations of medical child abuse.
The emails that Ms. Eastlund sent were time stamped only to the minute, so it is impossible to know what exactly I said to send her eyeballs back in their sockets, but I’m going to guess it was this:
Volin testimony: “I think she’s — she is hiding something there, and, uh, it seems to me that you’re helping her hide something by not providing copies of all of these supposed subpoenas, that you keep talking about and has — have never produced.”
Eastlund email: “Oh tony”
Tony email: “Yes. What can I do for you?”
While the above exchange happened, Ms. Perry grilled me about my belief that her client “has gotten people to bend the law for her” and demanded that I list them all.
Eastlund email: “HAHA,…Nothing…just…. Ohhh Tony :-).”
Tahra Sinks email: “Yes, I am sorry you get to be stuck in there for these 3 days. Should be entertaining J”
To respond to Ms. Perry’s demand for a list of her client’s mob, I named Oregon’s Department of Human Services, a doctor or manager at Corvallis Clinic, Oregon State University campus security, people at the child’s daycare and school, her client’s own family, and finally, Ms. Perry herself.
Eastlund email: “you have no idea…….shoot me now”
The balance of their exchange happened later that day and into the next.
Tahra Sinks email: “How is it going? Does it look like Tahra will be needed tomorrow?”
Eastlund email: “If I don’t show up to work tomorrow just assume I jumped off the local bridge. I couldn’t tell ya if we need Tara yet. We are still on the first witness since Ms. Sinks.”
Tahra Sinks email: “I don’t see anything in the news about anyone jumping off a bridge, so I assume you survived. The parties stated that they didn’t need Tahra there today. But if needed, she is available by phone until 2.”
Eastlund email: “It was close Tony…it was close!”
To describe this as disheartening is an understatement. It was a gasp-inducing gut punch wrapped in impropriety, drizzled with irony, and then rolled in toasted OMG. It was simply unnerving to be reading a textbook example of what I was describing, playing out in real time as I was testifying about it. It was a total Möbius Strip of misconduct.
There were a handful of other communications between Ms. Perry or Ms. Sinks and Ms. Eastlund that were best described as irregular, and that are now set aside for the appropriate venue and time.
Still other emails, from the trial court administrator, Heidi Bittick, caused full-on raised eyebrows, not so much for what was said in them, but for what was not said.
A little history: on the record, on June 13, 2017 — and pretty much apropos of nothing — Ms. Avera stated:
“I will note also for the record that I missed several weeks of work due to a concussion suffered on March 10th. I was in and out for about two weeks after that but did not feel capable of issuing a ruling in the case given the state of my ability at that time. This is a lengthy and complex case. I wanted to make certain that I was clear headed. It was something that needed to be done in a long stretch and consequently I did not address it until my return to full time work shortly before May 5th.”
At that point in the case, Ms. Avera was neck deep in extrinsic fraud, abetting an attorney whose professional complaints were beginning to pile up at the rate of one per month. Her spontaneous declaration struck me as strangely over-explanatory, like the kind of elaborate excuse a lying student gives a teacher regarding an overdue paper.
Perhaps Ms. Avera had never experienced a challenge to her authority during her brief judicial career, and didn’t think that her cover story would be investigated, especially not by litigants whose rights she was actively engaged in suppressing. Needless to say, her alibi did not hold up to closer examination.
A brisk check of the judge’s schedules for the four weeks after March 10, 2017 — a Friday — revealed that not only was Ms. Avera holding court on fifteen of those twenty days, but also that she was ruling and signing orders as early as the Monday following her alleged head injury.
By way of further explanation, the ruling in the case was signed almost exactly nine months after the end of the trial. In a family case, that is exceptionally tardy. There are no exact timelines and standards to be followed in Oregon, but the majority of family cases are heard and decided in six months, and the remaining within twelve. When the ink was dry on the final judgment, this case had been dragging on for 32 disgraceful months, all under the lackadaisical watch of Ms. Avera.
When a judge fails to decide a matter in 90 days, Oregon Uniform Trial Court Rule 2.030 (2) dictates that “all parties are required to call the matter to the judge’s attention” while cc’ing the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. A “90-day letter” was sent on February 24, 2017.
Just three days prior to this, Ms. Sinks’ office inquired as the status of the case in an email to Ms. Eastlund, who responded, “I can tell you that it’s halfway done.” This indicated that progress had been made on the judgment.
However, three weeks later, and only two business days after Ms. Avera’s alleged head injury, Ms. Bittick received an email from Appellate Legal Counsel at the Oregon Supreme Court, inquiring into the status of the case, and asking for “whatever information you can provide.” Ms. Bittick immediately forwarded the email to Ms. Eastlund:
Bittick email: “can you give me an update on this case plz.”
Eastlund email: “Still under advisement”
Ms. Bittick then forwarded the email from the Supreme Court to Ms. Avera:
Bittick email: “FYI………… I ckd with Tracey and she said its still under advisement. I reported that back to Lisa.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone at the Supreme Court had emailed me, asking me for whatever information I could provide about a specific case — which had now been under advisement for over 120 days — I would damn well scrape up some details. My brief anecdote about the L’il Judgment That Was Halfway Done would be extended into a Homeric Epic of Halfway Done-ness. It would be a flippin’ page turner, it would.
And gee… wouldn’t that have been the perfect time to talk about Ms. Avera’s alleged head injury? When a justification was desperately needed for inexcusable tardiness, I definitely would’ve played the traumatic brain injury card right there… unless of course it never happened.
The Office of the State Court Administrator — who executed this public records request — confirmed via email that no emails were screened, edited, or withheld due to sensitive information contained therein. These emails were as complete as their search parameters allowed them to be.
Recently, some of these emails were brought to the attention of the current Presiding Judge in Polk County Circuit Court, Judge Norman R. Hill. His response was “after reviewing the matter I am confident proper procedures were followed in this case.” Judge Hill also strangely answered several questions that were not posed of him.
More disturbingly, His Honor has seemingly declined to publicly admonish Ms. Eastlund, whose childish and unprofessional behavior during testimony about child abuse should merit some sort of job action.
Due to a mass mailing on the subject, Ms. Eastlund’s conduct has caught the attention of numerous elected officials in the area, who unfortunately have no real clout regarding the operations of the courthouse.
This leaves the litigant in this case to manage hostile court staff in addition to a malignant opponent, forcing him to file actions to prohibit their demonstrable interference in the matter, evidence of which was also uncovered via public records requests.
This now-notorious case — over which attorneys have been or are about to be disbarred and judges unceremoniously retired like bags of garbage into the back alley — continues to stink up the county, and continues to claim fresh victims of the opponent’s legal and administrative aggression.
These professional casualties — some, well-meaning office types, and others, willing aggressors — continue to blame the wrong party for their self-inflicted woes. They need to remember that we did not do this to them, we merely demanded that it stop.