Lori Deveny’s Biggest Bluff
In nearly 30 years of practice, the Oregon State Bar (OSB) had not received a single professional complaint against one of their most dynamic and involved stars, Lori Deveny, an attorney who specialized in representing people with traumatic brain injuries.
But in November 2017, Deveny’s perfect record suddenly and dramatically came to an end. The allegations that began to roll in that fall and winter were shocking: Deveny was accused of stealing settlement money from her vulnerable clients. In doing so, Deveny had even allegedly forged their signatures on checks. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were missing.
It even became uncomfortably possible that Deveny had chosen her specialty calculatingly — after all, people with memory loss and other cognitive problems made for dependably easy victims.
The smoking crater that replaced Deveny’s career left Portland’s legal community stunned. However, when the dust finally settles¹ on Deveny, what will be acknowledged as the most disturbing aspect of the shameful matter was the lack of urgency shown by the OSB, and their complete failure to perform their most important duty: that of providing protection to the public.
And in unraveling the OSB’s tangled yarn regarding Deveny, it is helpful to compare it to another of the bar’s twisted messes — one that went down contemporaneously and in the same region, but with very different results.
As the OSB’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel Office (ODC) began to fully grasp the magnitude of Deveny’s alleged theft and deception, and due to her failure to cooperate with or even respond to their investigations, they made the decision to suspend her. This type of interim suspension theoretically ends only in punishment or exoneration.
Their March 21, 2018 petition for suspension cited the ODC’s belief that Deveny’s continued practice of law was likely to “result in immediate and irreparable harm to her clients and the public at large.” It also suggested that the amount of money Deveny was accused of stealing was climbing as more complaints came in.
Yet nearly a month would pass before the petition for suspension was resolved — and not by order of the Supreme Court, but by the stipulation of Deveny herself, and seemingly only because the distant threat of an embarrassing hearing had suddenly become very real.
The stipulation, drawn up by Chief Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, Amber Bevacqua-Lynott, required Deveny to “take all steps reasonable to avoid prejudice to her clients” while suspended, and allowed Deveny’s friend and fellow attorney Jodie Phillips Polich “to either take possession of or have on-going access to” her client files.
Astonishingly, nowhere in Bevacqua-Lynott’s slim three-page document did it mention stolen money or restricting Deveny’s access to her client trust accounts, nor any kind of precautions to be taken regarding money, period. And it left the person who had already allegedly gravely harmed her clients in charge of ensuring that her clients were not gravely harmed some more.
It was the perfect arrangement for a crooked attorney who hadn’t been cooperating right up to the point that a suspension hearing was scheduled.
Unsurprisingly, Deveny didn’t comply with any term of the stipulation, and her clients and others were undoubtedly harmed because of it. During this period when she was left alone with her clients’ files and funds — while under suspicion of theft and forgery — it is almost certain that Deveny destroyed evidence of her alleged thieving and forging, or otherwise sanitized her records.
Then, in late May 2018, for reasons known only to herself, Deveny signed her Form B resignation — essentially, but not quite, self-disbarment. She again designated Phillips Polich as the attorney who would receive her client files.
While her resignation awaited signature first by Chief Justice Thomas Balmer, and then his successor, Chief Justice Martha Walters, a brief article appeared in the Oregonian, in which the OSB belatedly warned the public about Deveny.
Amazingly, that article was the means by which many of Deveny’s clients and victims first heard that there was a problem with their attorney.
By late July 2018, two months after it was submitted to the Supreme Court, Deveny’s resignation was finally signed and made official.
But less than two weeks later, Phillips Polich sent Bevacqua-Lynott a fax stating that she was no longer in a position to take Deveny’s clients’ files, and shortly thereafter sent an email that alarmingly admitted that Deveny was withholding access to them.
Shockingly, Bevacqua-Lynott displayed no urgency or distress as she lackadaisically responded to Phillip Polich that the OSB had “no independent ability to alter” the Supreme Court’s order, but that she would try to “facilitate a replacement” for Phillips Polich, thereby absolving her of her duty² to Deveny’s clients — falsely implying that the OSB had no ability to file a motion with the Supreme Court to change the designee, and insinuating that it wasn’t really their problem.
In other words, nine months after the first complaint was received against her, Deveny still had sole possession of her client files and her trust account, and evidence of all of her alleged criminal activities… and that was just foot-draggingly fine with the Oregon State Bar.
During Deveny’s suspension, Amber Bevacqua-Lynott and the OSB certainly had tools at their disposal to move aggressively to effectively rescue Deveny’s files and trust accounts out of the jaws of “irreparable harm,” yet they curiously failed to do so.
The pretend concern about lost funds and “harm to clients” was there, but not present, for some reason, was actual concern.
The Oregon State Bar continued to look the other way for another two months.
What the OSB did next was possibly their most shocking action: in late October 2018, they tapped a non-OSB attorney, Susan Alterman, to file a petition to seize Deveny’s practice. Alterman is an attorney who “focuses her practice on commercial banking and complex real estate transactions.” She is also “the former chair of Oregon State Bar’s Client Security Fund” (CSF) — the fund through which victims of dishonest attorneys are paid back for their losses.
Incredibly, Alterman’s petition was filed under a statute that technically did not apply to the situation: it only pertains to attorneys who have died, are disbarred, or are suspended from the active practice of law; or who are incarcerated; or who have “abandoned the practice.” Nowhere does the statute mention resignation, and Deveny certainly had not abandoned her practice. She was instead aggressively holding onto it.
The OSB should have used one of their many own competent attorneys to write the petition instead of hiring a real estate attorney to do so, but it appears to have been a feature and not a bug: the OSB avoided having their own fingerprints on the petition, and avoided the attention that accompanied it, at least at first.
Despite its defects, the petition to seize Deveny’s practice was granted the same day it was filed, and the limited judgment authorized the OSB to go scoop up Deveny’s stuff, including her trust accounts.
Yet an entire week would then pass before Alterman dilatorily served the judgment on various individuals at Wells Fargo.
It is unknown what happened next, but it is clear that nearly three months later, in mid-January 2019, the OSB, by their own admission, still did not have possession of all of Deveny’s client files and were as of that date still in the process of sending letters to Deveny’s 758 known clients, finally alerting them of Deveny’s resignation.
A copy of this purported letter — supposedly sent by the OSB’s General Counsel, Amber Hollister — was given to me without a date or addressee, and states that the client’s file would be destroyed unless the bar received a response before June 1, 2019, i.e. less than 6 months after the letter was allegedly created and sent.
Rather than mention any allegations against Deveny, readers were instead bizarrely treated to Hollister’s unnecessary history of the Client Security Fund, and her helpful instructions to clients who believed that Deveny had “converted” their funds. Because isn’t that exactly what every person suffering from a head injury needs: to have to look up the legal definition of the word “converted.”³
Strangely, Hollister gave as her contact information a little-used email address instead of her regular one. Perhaps as plausible deniability of having even seen any of the responses to her letter, or more likely, to segregate the responses straight into a very special folder. Regardless, one of Deveny’s alleged victims told me that he did not receive Hollister’s letter.
Then, only a week ago, Alterman successfully moved to have the court seal her Motion for Order Regarding Authority as Custodian (and the resultant order) “pursuant to the request of law enforcement on the grounds that the material to be filed is confidential and related to a pending criminal investigation.”
Looking back to the statutes, it is unclear what “material” needed to be filed into the case for custodianship of Deveny’s practice. Very little gets filed under these statutes (ORS 9.705 to 9.757), and the only outstanding item should be the “final report and accounting of all funds and property,” that the OSB is required to file to close the custodianship case.
Whatever it is that is now mysteriously sealed in Multnomah Circuit Court case no. 18CV48680, it is most certainly not a final report.
To bring into sharp focus just how disgraceful and strange all of the above is, it’s helpful to compare the OSB’s deferential and complaisant handling of Deveny — accused of forgery and theft — with the handling given to another attorney, whose matter unfolded at the same time and in the same region.
That attorney is Andrew Long, who had the misfortune of receiving, unjustifiably, the treatment that the OSB should have given to such an alleged career criminal as Deveny.
As Deveny was busy stalling and being generally uncooperative — while concurrently being allowed to retain control over her practice — the OSB was busy ‘converting’ Long’s personal problems into bar complaints: parking tickets, a dispute with his powerful landlord and another with his former assistant, and even his own child custody case in Florida were improperly mined for material to fabricate formal professional complaints against him.
Assistant Disciplinary Counsels Susan Cournoyer and Nik Chourey worked with breakneck speed to bring charges against Long that fall, but at the time that they brought a petition for interim suspension against him, Long was not accused of having stolen funds from clients, or anyone else for that matter.
Yet the petition claimed that the action was “necessary in order to protect the interest of the clients of Andrew Long or to protect the public interest.” Three days after its filing, the OSB issued a very public warning about the “substantial harm to his clients and the public at large” that Long supposedly presented.
Long’s suspension was ordered the following month, and just two days later, Cournoyer and Chourey petitioned Multnomah Circuit Court to appoint the OSB as custodian of Long’s practice. This was granted the same day, with the instruction that the bar seize everything with the assistance of Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputies.
Cournoyer and Chourey went straight from the courthouse to Long’s office with five deputies, alarming Long and his girlfriend, who told me that she “had never been in a situation where the authorities were so clearly the wrongdoers and there was no one to appeal to for help.”
Long’s office files were seized and shortly thereafter, his lawyer trust account was seized.
Two weeks after that, Cournoyer sent out letters to all of Long’s clients, which stated that the bar had their files and their funds, and gave instructions regarding the return of either or both. Cournoyer gave her regular email as the contact.
Interestingly, Cournoyer’s letter appears to have generated several CSF claims against Long, which she then converted into professional complaints — basically putting the cart before the horse. Even more remarkably, some of the CSF claimants stated on their documents that they first discovered their loss “when the state (Susan Cournoyer) sent me a letter,” and that the loss occurred “when the state informed me of [Long’s] suspension…” super convincing answers to the form-letter you received about signing here for free money.
It is also extra ironic because several of his clients testified on his behalf that actual harm was inflicted upon them when the state suspended Andrew Long, their excellent and affordable attorney.
So why did all of this happen? Why was alleged thief and forger Lori Deveny basically carried around on a velvet pillow by the Oregon State Bar instead of turned upside down and shaken by her ankles until every last nickel and client file fell out? Hint: the answer is not ‘due process.’
On the flip side, why was Andrew Long subject to a continuous assault of dubious and untrustworthy complaints stemming mostly from personal matters and which did not involve theft? Hint: the answer is not ‘to protect the public.’
The short answer when something otherwise inexplicable happens in the public realm is that politics, corruption, bribery or extortion — or any combination thereof — are at play. None of those things belong in the disciplinary process of the OSB.
Currently, it remains to be uncovered which of the above factors influenced the bar’s clearly underwhelming and foot-dragging response to Deveny, which continues to this day. She certainly could not have hoped for a better outcome, given the circumstances: she was generously allowed an entire year to do whatever she wished with her irreplaceable records.
It also remains to be uncovered which factors explain the bar’s hysterically unrelenting attack on Long, which continues to this day. He hasn’t been able to earn a living for over a year, compounding his troubles. His interim suspension⁴ has turned into an interminable one.
What is known, however, is that after these messes and others⁵ of recent note, it will be difficult to rebuild trust in the Oregon State Bar’s disciplinary process — a process that is supposed to remain fair and impartial, and that is there solely to protect the public.
If I were an Oregon attorney, I would even wonder, “could it happen to me?”
¹ Because the dust has absolutely not settled.
² Being designated on a Form B Resignation as the recipient of client files is presumably a freely undertaken duty. But given the dark cloud of fraud, forgery, and deceit under which Deveny resigned, it is possible that Phillips Polich had no idea what her friend had signed her up for.
³ Just say STOLE. Everyone understands stole.
⁴ Interim suspensions are not supposed to last infinity days.
⁵ The matter of Lisa Klemp is shockingly similar to that of Andrew Long, and will be explored in an upcoming article.