Possible Side Effects

Feds revoke Oregon State Bar’s immunity passport

First, a “false light” tort lawsuit filed by attorney Andrew Long against the Bar and its employee Amber Hollister, for an article she wrote for the Bulletin in which she misleadingly portrayed Long (and seven others) as the “cause of the rise in [misconduct] claims” that threatened to impact the pocketbooks of all Oregon attorneys.

Long’s case against the Bar was dismissed in February because the judge ruled that the Bar and its employees are “absolutely immune from civil liability in the performance of their duties,” including their handling of such misconduct claims.

Somehow Hollister and the Bar managed to convince the judge that smearing Long constituted their official duties, rather than being an indication of their misconduct. (Keep reading for more on the Bar’s irregular handling of these claims against Long and former attorney Lori Deveny.)

Regardless, Long’s case was dismissed just one day before a decision came down in a federal suit filed against the Bar — by more of its licensees — alleging that the Bar had violated its members’ right to freedom of speech

The suit was filed in an attempt to “break up” the Bar for those violations,² and while it failed to achieve that goal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did decide that the Bar is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. That is to say, it is now definitive that the Bar may be sued in federal court.

The Ninth Circuit arrived at its stunning decision by [checks notes] simply reading Oregon statute.

It is unclear how the Bar managed to feign immunity for so long, but it appears to be partly due to their absolute monopoly over every aspect of the legal system in Oregon: from licensing everyone in it — including judges — to controlling their coercive mandatory malpractice insurance program.³

The third decision came out earlier this week from the U. S. Supreme Court in an “excessive force” case involving the St. Louis police. Civil rights attorneys are appropriately enthusiastic for obvious reasons — specifically that the Supreme Court found that when a state actor (like a police officer) deviates from standard training and guidelines, such deviations may be viewed as evidence of civil rights violations.

However, that decision has far greater implications: One can now argue that the Supreme Court’s decision applies to any municipal entity or agency, and any instance in which an employee deviates from usual procedure, and view that deviation as evidence of civil rights violations.

You can see how this could apply to the Oregon State Bar, who has statutes, bylaws, rules, and probably employee handbooks to guide them through their official duties. All of those guidelines can now be mined for evidence of civil rights abuses. This is absolutely important for licensees and others who believe they are being singled out for abuse by the Bar, who may now be sued in federal court — a court over which the Oregon State Bar has no stranglehold.

That brings us back to Andrew Long and his false light suit against the Bar and General Counsel Amber Hollister.

In March 2019, I wrote about the very article that Hollister authored over which Long sued. I noted that Hollister’s piece was deceptive in that it strongly implied that the huge increase in CSF claims in 2018 was due to eight male attorneys, including Long. In reality, those claims (up to $2.4 million at the time) were almost entirely filed against disgraced former attorneys Lori Deveny and Pamela Hedgier — both of whom are women.

One may wonder how Hollister got away with such blatant deceit.

Easily: She lied to the judge (and probably the Bar’s Board of Governors, also) to get out of any and all consequences for her actions. Hollister’s official excuse, memorialized in her declaration in Long’s suit, was that her article was clearly separated into two parts:

The first part of the article provides a general overview and history of the CSF; notes the almost 50 percent increase in the number of claims filed with the CSF in 2018; and explains that the increase in claims filed in 2018 was “driven primarily by claims against a handful of attorneys who are alleged to have converted clients“ settlement funds.

The second part of the article provides the information required by CSF Rule 6.9 regarding CSF awards made during 2018. Claims are organized by attorney and attorneys are listed in alphabetical order. The article only details awards made in 2018; it does not include specific information about claims that were denied or claims that were made prior to publication and were still under investigation or otherwise pending at the end of 2018.

Hollister’s entire article may be read here. Decide for yourself whether or not her excuses are plausible, or if Hollister instead intended for her readers to think that those eight men were responsible for the “stark increase” in CSF claims in 2018.

Yeah, that’s what I thought. It gets worse, though: Hollister’s claim that those eight men represent all of the claims awarded in 2018 is actually false.

Hollister calculatingly left one women attorney out of the article: Leslie Martinez. I discovered her through the magic of public records requests. That 2018 award against the now-former attorney was for a fairly small amount ($1,800), but it is significant that Hollister chose to omit her from the list, so that she could theatrically unveil a rogue’s gallery of mustache-twisting men attorneys stealing money from everyone’s pockets.

But wait, there’s more: Most of the CSF claims awarded in 2018 were for claims filed in 2017, with a few stragglers from 2014–2016. However, Hollister, who is in charge of the Client Security Fund’s workload, appears to have fast-tracked for approval a few claims filed in 2018 — all of which just happened to be claims filed against men, including two against Andrew Long.

Most astonishingly, Hollister did so by leapfrogging over fifteen CSF claims filed by victims of Deveny and Hediger — both of whom would eventually face federal criminal charges for their theft from clients. As an important aside, the Bar tried to drum up criminal charges against Long for one of his CSF claims, but the Multnomah District Attorney declined to prosecute him.

Despite all of the above, Hollister claimed in her sworn declaration that her article and conduct are her standard, business-as-usual duties for herself and the Bar, and she was just doing her job.

While I’m certain that even those small measures were agony for Hollister, they could not have even begun to repair the injury to Long’s reputation that her article and other conduct caused: As alleged in Long’s complaint, Hollister was “aware that Long had litigation [against]” the Bar pending before the Oregon Supreme Court, and “inten[ded] to prejudice the result” by “providing prejudicial information through an otherwise reputable source to the Oregon Supreme Court and its staff.”

Hollister’s “other conduct” included receiving and investigating a significant CSF claim against Long — without providing him notice of it or an opportunity to refute it — and then using that claim as the centerpiece to a disciplinary proceeding against him, employing distorted evidence to support the claim, and then withholding payment to the alleged victim until the day after they had provided testimony to the disciplinary panel — long after the claim had been approved for payment.

That is to say, it appears as though the payment of the CSF claim was promised — or withheld for a lengthy time — with the intent to influence the alleged victim’s testimony.⁴ If so, the Bar and/or its attorneys would seem to be guilty of bribing a witness, which is a felony.

This particular CSF claim against Long was for more than $31,000 — approximately fifteen times larger than any other CSF claim against him. It is also the single most serious allegation in the Bar’s disciplinary cases against Long, and the only complaint that plainly warrants disbarment, if true.

Given the Bar’s longstanding goal of disbarring Long (stated well before the CSF claims against him), and their history of misrepresenting his conduct to those judging him — and given the fact that the first disciplinary proceeding against Long was remanded by the Oregon Supreme Court because Long “in effect received no hearing at all” — there should be significant concerns with the legitimacy and reliability of the Bar’s ongoing disciplinary assault against Long.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you.

The problem then lies in current General Counsel Amber Hollister.

Others agree. It appears that Hollister was urged to resign early from her role as then-President of Oregon Women Lawyers (OWLS) due to this poorly thought out and stupidly sexist escapade, shortly after I pointed it out to them. Further proof that she was pushed out is that Lori Deveny — also a former President of OWLS — was scrubbed from their website during Hollister’s reign, and then Deveny’s name restored after Hollister’s premature exit. While not exactly transparent, it reveals much about their attitude towards both attorneys.

If only the Bar could take such appropriate action to restore its own integrity and admit it is not among Hollister’s official duties to rehabilitate the image of Lori Deveny while redirecting everyone’s scorn over to Andrew Long.

Through my work reporting on the Bar I’ve come to realize that unethical and criminal conduct involving money is the only thing that gets anyone’s attention. So, I’ll continue to work on investigating these CSF claims of Deveny’s and Long’s that are being handled in a manner that deviates from usual procedure — as if someone’s civil rights are being violated, and as if someone may be sued in federal court over it.

¹ This case, now at the U.S. Supreme Court, is a bit difficult to understand or stomach (because the underlying issue was kind of a repulsive hill to die on, in my view), but I do agree that attorneys should not be forced to subsidize political speech by the Bar that they disagree with.

² The Oregon State Bar may be “broken up” into smaller chunks to ensure that the public is protected by having separate agencies for regulation and discipline. This happened in California in 2018, for much the same reason that it should happen in Oregon.

³ I am aware of several instances in which licensees have been intimidated into obedience: attorneys are afraid to take up certain causes for fear of disciplinary retaliation by the Bar.

⁴ The Bar had originally sought to have the alleged victim testify in an April 2019 hearing and might have paid her thereafter, but the Oregon Supreme Court stayed that hearing on Long’s motion, so the alleged victim did not testify until June of that year. Payment on the claim had been approved in February 2019 but was not made until June 20 of that year — 118 days after approval. Other claimants against Long were paid within 21 days.