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The Oregon State Bar’s Pro Bono Problem

Recently, two prominent Portland-area attorneys with a substantial history of leadership in Oregon’s legal community quietly made the switch from active to pro bono status.

While that certainly sounds altruistic on paper, in reality the two appear to have made the move to avoid professional/ethical prosecution by their licensor, the Oregon State Bar (OSB) — and possibly even to avoid potential criminal charges.

It also appears that they did so with the OSB’s blessing. An obscure bylaw may help explain why.

In 2015, Deanna Wray and her now-disgraced-former-attorney friend, Lori Deveny, allegedly hatched a scheme to conceal a witness in Terry Bean’s criminal sodomy and sex abuse case in exchange for money. That witness happened to be the underaged alleged victim, known in court documents as “MSG.”

At the time they allegedly conspired to hinder that prosecution, Deveny was president of Oregon Women Lawyers Foundation, and Wray was the president-elect. The foundation and its sister organization, Oregon Women Lawyers (OWLS), are arguably the most powerful specialty bar associations in the state. Their respective missions are to “transform the practice of law” and “educate and support women and minorities in accessing and participating in the justice system.”

After she transformed the practice of that particular law, Deveny would go on to steal most of the money she negotiated for MSG… and another $3 million from other personal injury clients of hers. Deveny then resigned her legal license in May 2018 to avoid prosecution by the OSB. The following month, Wray quit her job at the prestigious firm where she had worked for sixteen years — the unfortunately-named Bodyfelt Mount — and went into real estate.

When Wray’s alleged participation in the scheme came to the attention of the OSB in February 2019, they opened an investigation, quickly advancing it to the disciplinary office while waiting to see if the state would prosecute her for the crime.

The criminal allegations, however, apparently did no damage to Wray’s reputation: she currently serves on the OWLS Foundation’s board and proudly attended the OSB’s awards luncheon in November 2019, a month before her transfer to pro bono.

In 2018, Mark Johnson-Roberts was working as the Deputy General Counsel for the OSB. In that role, he objectively botched key aspects of two of the OSB’s worst disciplinary cases. One was Deveny, to whom Johnson-Roberts gave a “heads up” that the OSB was coming to seize her practice through a custodianship. The warning allowed Deveny a two-week head start to hide evidence that could be used against her. The other was Megan Perry (aka Megan Moeller), who Johnson-Roberts had been warned was shredding evidence of her criminal conduct. Johnson-Roberts did nothing with the information and failed to report it to law enforcement. His “negligence” was only discovered through public records requests, well after the fact.

Johnson-Roberts has a long and significant history with the OSB, the American Bar Association, and state and national specialty bar associations. He was the OSB’s first openly gay bar president, the founder and co-chair of OGALLA (the LGBT bar association of Oregon), and the former president of the National LGBT Bar Association. He was a member of the OSB’s Board of Governors and the ABA House of Delegates, and served on several OSB committees and other bar sections.

In short, Johnson-Roberts is precisely the kind of attorney that the OSB loves to celebrate in its monthly magazine, the OSB Bulletin — especially at retirement.

Conspicuously, however, Johnson-Roberts received no such honors when he “resigned” his position at the OSB in January 2019 and transferred to pro bono.

Even more noticeable — and cringeworthy — was the small farewell notice in the back of the February/March 2019 Bulletin that Johnson-Roberts seems to have paid for himself. The notice (typeset in Dignity Sans) was placed just below a “Have an Item for the Bulletin?” ad, advocating for free (or low-cost) short items about Oregon lawyers which Johnson-Roberts certainly could have qualified for.

It is telling that Johnson-Roberts’s exit from the OSB did not befit someone with such a distinguished career — on paper, at least. He did not receive his parade.

Oregon State Bar Bylaws assert that only lawyers in “good standing” may switch to pro bono status. However, the term “good standing” is not defined anywhere and only appears that one time in the entire 80 pages of Bylaws. In other words, “good standing” means whatever the OSB wants it to mean when push comes to shove.

In the case of Deanna Wray, “good standing” was apparently unaffected by the criminal and disciplinary investigations of her for allegedly secreting a child victim of sex abuse. In the case of Mark Johnson-Roberts, “good standing” overcame the punitive job action he suffered for helping two unethical attorneys avoid accountability.

How on earth could these two be considered lawyers of “good standing?”

The answer appears to be hiding in plain sight in OSB Bylaw 6.101 (b), which states that attorneys who elect pro bono status may provide free legal services to indigent clients under OSB certified programs or may volunteer their service to the OSB itself, as “bar counsel.”

In the latter circumstance, the client is therefore the Oregon State Bar.¹ For those unfamiliar with the legal profession and its rules of professional conduct, there is nothing more sacrosanct than a lawyer’s duty of confidentiality to their client. Under that inviolable duty, a lawyer cannot be compelled to disclose anything short of information necessary to prevent a crime or substantial bodily harm/certain death — and then, only if they are actually ethical enough to disclose it.

Wray and Johnson-Roberts could have chosen inactive status for the same cost (in bar dues) as going pro bono. Johnson-Roberts could have chosen retired status to align with the myth that his farewell notice was trying to perpetuate. Both could have even resigned their bar licenses.

But instead Deanna Wray and Mark Johnson-Roberts went pro bono. And, gasp!, neither has faced any criminal charges.

It is entirely plausible (if not probable) that the two went pro bono, at the Oregon State Bar’s urging, in order for them all to enjoy the shield of confidentiality that the attorney-client relationship provided.

Importantly, that confidentiality would extend over any work that the two performed in the OSB’s custodianship over their friend Lori Deveny’s law practice — an ongoing five-alarm shitshow that has been so badly mishandled as to appear very much deliberate.

The custodianship was apparently Johnson-Roberts’s terrible idea to begin with — and it ended up protecting Deveny more than her former clients or the public. He certainly had motivation to continue working on the matter to ensure that the OSB crossed the finish line intact. Likewise, Wray and the OSB would want a buffer zone between her and law enforcement in regard to Deveny. After all, it was the discovery of their scheme to hide a witness which has caused the slow trickle of Deveny’s bank statements and other information into the public record-sphere. These statements happen to discredit the OSB’s claims in their custodianship against Deveny.²

Johnson-Roberts also appears to have continued his stellar “work” on Megan Moeller’s cases, by using his position to continue to interfere in civil cases that arose from her brief but damaging campaign of fraud. That interference threatens the very existence of the OSB and their mandatory insurer, the Professional Liability Fund, due to their already precarious standing under federal antitrust law

The public continues to be harmed by the OSB’s politically-motivated failure to regulate the legal profession and their deteriorating regard for transparency. If only someone would rein them in.

¹ Because that’s exactly what the OSB needs: Unpaid, possibly disgraced legal aid!

² The OSB claimed, in its final report and accounting in the Deveny custodianship (Multnomah case no. 18CV48680) that Deveny had only one IOLTA with $3,000 in it and an overdrawn business account. According to the Declaration filed on May 8, 2020 in the Lane County criminal case against Derek Ashton (Terry Bean’s attorney), Deveny had ten Wells Fargo bank accounts inn 2015. Of course, some may have been closed by the time that the OSB took custodianship of Deveny’s practice., but other records indicate that there are significant defects with the OSB’s official story regarding Deveny’s bank accounts.

³ See the dissenting opinion in Hass v. Oregon State Bar.

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