In the Matter of J. Mathew DeVore

Keeping Up Appearances at the Oregon State Bar

Another day, another attorney allegedly engaged in criminal conduct of the most shocking degree: forgery of court documents, identity theft of a judge (!) and a process server, and simulation of legal process. All are Class C felonies in Oregon.

When the Oregon State Bar receives credible allegations of an attorney’s felonious conduct such as this, the OSB has a duty to act quickly to protect the public from it. One of their tools is to seek the attorney’s immediate suspension while their investigation proceeds.

Yet the OSB, under the leadership of Executive Director Helen Hierschbiel, has persistently refused to move quickly in some cases (such as this one), while moving with the speed of light in others.

The reason, as usual, appears to be politics. And as usual, it was the public that was put in harm’s way.

In the present case, that of now-former attorney J. Mathew DeVore¹ of Portland, the public went unprotected and unwarned for a year after the OSB knew with near certainty that DeVore had created forgeries and passed them to his client, seemingly to get her off his back. The documents included a fraudulent Multnomah court judgment and declaration of service.

The bar complaint was initially made in early March 2019 by another attorney, Bonnie Richardson, rather than the head of the firm where DeVore worked, Grace Lee. Lee knew of the criminal conduct but shirked her mandatory duty to notify the OSB about it, apparently concerned about a malpractice suit.

In early July 2019, the OSB spoke with one of the victims of identity theft, Desiree White— a process server who briskly confirmed that the declaration of service that DeVore had given his client was indeed a forgery. Her boss, Zack Holstun, even located the document from which DeVore had allegedly swiped White’s signature.

It was at that exact time that the OSB should have petitioned the Supreme Court of Oregon for DeVore’s immediate interim suspension under their rule of procedure BR 3.1 while their investigation moved forward. As the OSB and everyone else knows, the Supreme Court “has long recognized the threat to the public posed by lawyers who forge or fabricate documents,” and their immediate suspension “is the only remedy sufficient to protect the public” and their clients. In other words, the attorney still gets their due process during the OSB’s investigation, but is sidelined from practice during it.

DeVore at this time was also blowing off the OSB’s inquiries, a huge no-no. Over the period of four and a half months, DeVore was sent six letters from the OSB’s Client Assistance Office and Office of Disciplinary Counsel. He did not respond to any of them.

In late August 2019, the OSB finally petitioned for DeVore’s suspension under their other rule of procedure BR 7.1 — a rule regarding failure to respond to the OSB. Strangely, the petition did not contain any reference to DeVore’s alleged forgeries or other criminal conduct, although the exhibits attached did.

The OSB’s Adjudicator, Mark Turner, signed the order suspending DeVore in September, after the attorney again refused to respond. It is unclear if Turner raised the question of why the OSB was pursuing this type of suspension instead of the correct kind, or if it would have been appropriate for him to raise that question.

Regardless, one might wonder: Who cares which rule DeVore was suspended under, so long as he was suspended?

The answer is appearances.

An attorney who is suspended for not responding to the OSB appears in their online directory as “Status: Contact OSB for details,” truly a pointless redirect. (See the directory entry of Donald E. Oliver).

But an attorney who is interim suspended to protect the public appears in the directory as “Status: Suspended — Disciplinary.” There is also a helpful dropdown box which makes it even clearer that the suspension was a sanction. (see the directory entry of Andrew Long).

As with all professionals, appearances are important for attorneys.

Unfortunately for Oregon’s legal profession, the OSB may manufacture an appearance of danger to the public if it suits them — suspending good attorneys they don’t like while making it rain news stories about their alleged criminal conduct.

On the other hand, the OSB may allow bad attorneys to shoot a gun into busy law offices (while inebriated!) or threaten their clients with physical harm, without any immediate suspension of their law license.

In yet other instances, the OSB may look the other way while attorneys forge the signatures of judges and clients with impunity. The OSB may even graciously give them extra time to do so — or even to destroy evidence of such — all while pushing back on the public’s cries for help.

The OSB does these things deliberately, brazenly, and only when it suits their politics or other interests. Their acts and omissions are calculated conduct, not negligence — although one could certainly bring a suit for such.

In May 2020, J. Mathew DeVore was finally disbarred by default for his ongoing failure to respond. Bonnie Richardson, the attorney who reported him, was immediately informed of his disbarment. The public would have to wait, however.

A month later, after the time had elapsed in which he could appeal, his OSB directory entry was updated, and his name appeared on a list of attorney status changes available on the Supreme Court’s website. Four months after his disbarment, it was announced in the OSB’s professional magazine, the Bulletin.

It was at least an entire year that the public was unprotected from potential criminal conduct by DeVore. How many of his clients are just now finding out about DeVore who could have been warned far earlier by a press release or news story of his suspension? Was there any criminal conduct committed during that year? To cap off the OSB’s disregard for it all, they apparently even failed to report DeVore to law enforcement — a mandatory duty under their own rules — in October 2019, although the OSB is cooperating with the investigation.

Zack Holstun, the President of Mercury PDX, the process serving company whose identity and trust were stolen, told me “It was a complete violation of our trust, wholly unethical, and flat out sleazy. We hold the attorneys we work for in high regard, and we never imagined any of them capable of anything like this.”

Most people cannot imagine it either. That’s why the Oregon State Bar is supposed to be here to protect them.

¹ DeVore is the son The Honorable Joel DeVore, of the Oregon Court of Appeals. By all accounts, Judge DeVore is a very well-respected and admirable jurist. There is absolutely no indication in the records provided to me by the OSB that their failure to move for DeVore’s suspension was due to external pressure.

Of additional note is that in the OSB’s records I received, there were “telephone memos” which are notes the OSB takes when speaking to witnesses in disciplinary matters. These same types of “telephone memos” were missing from the OSB’s “complete file” of former attorney Megan Perry (aka Megan Moeller), and which the OSB claimed were destroyed in accordance with their records retention policy , but were actually lying.

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