Lowering the Bar
There is one thing that I have found to be universally true in the state of Oregon: they are dead serious about public records there. There are clear and concise statutes regarding them, their availability, the ease of obtaining them, transparency surrounding them etc.
Oregon also recently appointed a records czar of sorts to make it easier for the public to handle disputes with recalcitrant recordskeepers. The Governor’s office even posts records requests and their results on their webpage — optically very wise since the current officeholder has been accused of opacity and secrecy.
Unfortunately, the transparency-fest does not include the legal professionals at the Oregon State Bar (OSB).
A few weeks ago, on Thanksgiving morning, I emailed the OSB’s spokesperson, Kateri Walsh, with a simple request: that I be provided with a copy of their records retention policy, and the retention policy of their Disciplinary Counsel Office (DCO), if it was separate and distinct.
Ms. Walsh had invoked the policy a few weeks’ prior as a means of excusing items missing from the file of their most recently and notoriously disbarred licensee, Megan M. Perry.
For months before that, I had been attempting to get to the bottom of the OSB’s mishandling of Perry’s disciplinary case, her criminal conduct, and related matters. As a member of the media, Ms. Walsh was the person assigned to handle all of my requests.
However, I was unprepared for her response, finally sent earlier this week: that she had received my “public records request,” and that it would “cost $27.00 to respond.”
Now granted, this was not a lot of money, equivalent to a few lunches or a small holiday gift, and I almost called and paid it out of habit.
But then I thought about it.
The OSB had already been charging — and probably overcharging — me for every last thing I needed from them to demonstrate that they had failed catastrophically in their sixteen simultaneous investigations of Perry. They were also shortchanging me in the process, most notably when they failed to send me Perry’s “complete disciplinary file” for which I had specifically requested and paid.
This demonstrably incomplete file was the reason that Ms. Walsh brought up the records retention policy to begin with, claiming that records and notes of phone calls with Perry’s victims were somehow destroyed in the five months since she had submitted her resignation. That brief time period was simply not plausible, and it was clear that they were desperately stalling for time before I published another damaging article.
Before I requested their retention policy, I tried to find it on the OSB’s website, where it certainly should have been — and should have been as easy to find as their bylaws, mission statement, and rules of professional procedure.
But it wasn’t there. I found several references to it, and I was pretty sure that I knew generally how long the OSB was supposed to keep complaint records, but since I was about to accuse them of further destruction of evidence, I wanted to be certain that I knew the exact policy.
I also wanted to make sure that there wasn’t some bizarre loophole about phone logs. They had kept these logs in the matter of another of Perry’s victims, likely because those notes supported that there was confusion as to who had sent a forged document to the Department of Justice (DOJ) — whether it had been Perry or the victim of the forgery.
In the other file (that of a family who was a victim of another of Perry’s forgeries) the phone logs were missing. This family told me that they mainly communicated by phone with the OSB and DCO, eschewing email. There should have been numerous records specifically related to the forgeries.
But DCO did not want to preserve that part of the record, probably because it supported my contention that they had intentionally undermined their own investigation into the criminal conduct of Perry.
DCO did this to ensure that Perry’s only punishment was disbarment, and that she avoided any legal consequences or jail time for her numerous acts of fraud, forgery, witness tampering, false swearing, etc. DCO even arranged it so that Perry almost escaped attention for her disbarment to begin with, by failing to publish notice of it in their monthly industry publication, the Bar Bulletin, until they were shamed into doing so. By me.
Getting back to my request for their retention policy, I was appalled by Ms. Walsh’s arrogant request for more money and told her so.
I also alerted the DOJ to the OSB’s attempted shakedown. The DOJ handles disputed public records requests. This was the ironic part: since my original email did not really qualify as a public records request, it was not technically an appeal to them… it was more like me narcing on the OSB out of sheer frustration and disgust.
The gentleman at the DOJ who handles these appeals agreed that the documents I was looking for didn’t constitute a public record and the retention policy really should’ve been posted on the bar’s website. In other words, I won. The OSB is giving me their retention policy for free, as they should. I withdrew my petition to the DOJ, but made sure they knew what was happening here.
Mark Johnson Roberts, the Deputy General Counsel of the OSB — i.e the bar’s own lawyer — then unwisely overstepped by attempting to portray me as an unmanageable serial public records requester who was making unreasonable demands of the OSB, and draining their precious resources. You know, keeping them from buying ponies for their unethical attorney friends, from harassing others they thought were icky, and generally bringing shame to their noble profession.
Mark’s boss, Amber Hollister, had done this before, in shrill and hysterical fashion, during my only other appeal to the DOJ.
It is apparently the standard, “go-to” move of attorneys to victim-blame and destroy the reputation of members of the public, right out of the gate, when they accuse a lawyer of literally anything — from accounting irregularities to negligence to criminal conduct.
Unfortunately, the bad actors at the Oregon State Bar are now fully committed to their misconduct in the matter of Megan Perry, as well as their rapidly escalating cover-up. They cannot and will not suddenly reverse course.
They are causing the agency to behave, institutionally, much like a criminal enterprise: their livelihoods and status now depend on nobody finding out about what they’ve done. If one person breaks ranks, the whole house of cards collapses.
This whole disturbing affair — especially General Counsel’s angry lashing out and quashing of information — provides the perfect demonstration of why the profession should not be self-regulating. The Oregon State Bar simply cannot be trusted to fairly handle the task.