Hiding Behind Bars
What Happens when Attorneys Commit Crimes
*** Read the latest on the criminal case against Megan Perry (Moeller), click here.
What do you do if someone steals money from you? Or if someone forges papers that harm you? What if someone kidnaps your child? The answer to all three questions, of course, is that you call the police.
Now, what if the person who does those things is an attorney?
Well, the answer is still to call the police. Theft, forgery, and child trafficking are crimes no matter who commits them.
Strangely though, there is tremendous public confusion about where to report criminal conduct committed by a lawyer. Instead of contacting law enforcement, victimized clients tend to call their state bar and report criminal conduct not as a violation of criminal statutes, but as a breach of bar rules.
That’s basically like contacting the DMV after a drunk driver plows into you, expecting them to investigate the accident and prosecute the drunk for violating the law. Obviously, the DMV doesn’t do that. The DMV is authorized under state statute only to regulate the licenses it issues, and is clearly not a special branch of law enforcement tasked with bringing drunk drivers to justice. Similarly, the state bar is authorized only to suspend or revoke a bad attorney’s privilege of practicing law. It is not a special police agency that investigates and prosecutes crimes committed by bad attorneys.
Law enforcement seems nearly as perplexed by this as the public is, often deferring to the bar’s handling of professional complaints against an attorney before deciding whether or not to ‘get involved’ in allegations of criminal conduct — or, conversely, failing to ‘get involved’ under the misconception that sanctions imposed by the bar can somehow resolve criminal acts by attorneys.
Even other attorneys often mistakenly report alleged crimes committed by their colleagues to the bar — not simply because they want to keep such matters ‘in house,’ but because there is general confusion as to how to get anybody to do anything about these crimes. It’s like the very presence of the word “attorney” makes everybody assume that different rules apply — yet there is no consensus as to what the different rules actually are, nor who is responsible for administering them.
Given the above, a state bar is uniquely situated to perpetuate the misconception that they have sole authority over anything bad an attorney does — and also uniquely situated to dispel that misconception. A state bar is also in a uniquely strong position to expose crimes committed under the privileges it administers to its licensees — or, if the crimes are egregious enough to threaten the stability of the bar, the profession, or the judiciary, the bar is in a uniquely strong position to cover up those crimes, and provide shelter for the criminal responsible.
Unfortunately, officials at the Oregon State Bar (OSB) have recently made the wrong choices from the above options. Those poor decisions promise to have lasting negative effects on the agency and its licensees, i.e. Oregon’s entire legal community.
The unfolding matter of former attorney Megan M. Perry provides the perfect illustration of the morass that can result from shocking attorney crimes and misguided attempts by bar officials to conceal them.
Megan Marie Perry practiced law in Oregon for less than four years before she went to “inactive status” in October 2017. A search of OECI (Oregon’s online court records system) shows that during her short career, Perry was involved in 339 cases. Of those, 23 resulted in formal bar complaints.¹
Five of those were summarized by the OSB’s Disciplinary Counsel’s Office (DCO) for review by the State Professional Responsibility Board (SPRB), a kind of grand jury for lawyer ethics. Other complaints were scheduled for summary when Perry finally ran out of answers² and gave her resignation, and DCO investigators Susan Cournoyer and Dawn Evans prematurely put their pencils down.
In four of the those five SPRB summaries there are descriptions of alleged criminal conduct committed by Perry, statements by DCO of their belief that the criminal conduct occurred, and recommendations that the SPRB “find probable cause” of the allegations and violations of bar rules, which they did.
In one of those cases, Perry allegedly hid in her office for three hours and frantically fabricated a four-page ‘custody evaluation’ while her client waited outside. She then presented the fraudulent document to him as the work of a Portland psychologist, Dr. Edward Vien.
In another, Perry gave her client a conformed copy of a stipulated divorce judgment ‘signed’ by Linn County Judge David Delsman. Unfortunately for the couple, the document, which had a case number on it wholly invented by Perry, had never even been filed, let alone signed. The forgery was not discovered for another year, after the wife had remarried. In a written response, Perry’s high-priced defense lawyers from the firm of Holland & Knight (Allison Martin Rhodes and Nellie Q. Barnard) wrote that “Perry recalls that she thoughtlessly mimicked the judge’s signature… and did not intend to forge it.”
In still another case, after her clients demanded proof that she had served their adversary with papers, Perry forged the signatures of a Florida process server, a notary, and the actual opponent. Perry resigned rather than respond to the allegations, but there was little left to say when confronted with affidavits by the Florida men whose signatures she had forged. It seems that she failed to consult a map of Florida when selecting signatures to copy: neither man was licensed in the county listed on her forged document, and it was a seven-hour round trip by car from their home base.
And although quite bad, these were not even her worst crimes.
The first person who tried to report one of Perry’s criminal acts to the OSB was Blainey Elkins, who alleged that Perry had forged her signature. Ms. Elkins’ mother, Donna Dove, hired Perry in late 2014 to gain temporary and then permanent guardianship of her infant grandson in a case type known as a protective proceeding.
On page two of the petition, Perry claimed that Dove sought guardianship due to Ms. Elkin’s “current mental health conditions and living situation;” that the Linn County Department of Human Services had contacted Dove “regarding allegations of abuse and/or neglect;” and that the baby was “exhibiting some signs of fetal alcohol syndrome.” Perry also claimed that there was “an immediate and serious danger to the life or health of the minor child” and that Ms. Elkins’ address was “unknown.”
No additional details were given to explain those deliberately vague claims and no evidence or exhibits were attached to support them.
On the last page, Dove swore that the contents of the petition, including her own address in Woodland Hills, Utah, was “true and correct.” However, everything below line 18 on the document appears to be a notarization crudely cut and pasted from pieces of other notarizations, with whiteout or tape marks showing.
This highly irregular petition was accompanied by a document entitled “Consent by Mother to Guardianship,” the forgery Ms. Elkins called the OSB to report.
It was ‘signed’ by Ms. Elkins, dated November 7, 2014, and notarized by Oregon notary Linda Imperio — unless that signature, too, was forged.
This shameful bundle was then e-filed on January 9, 2015 at 1:59:19 p.m., more than two months after Ms. Elkins had supposedly signed over her parental rights. So much for immediate danger.
And exactly two hours after it was e-filed, bringing it to the court’s attention for the very first time, Judge David Delsman signed an “Order Appointing Emergency Temporary Guardian.” I tried to purchase the hearing audio only to discover that there was no hearing in this protective matter.
Less than a week later, Judge Delsman made those orders permanent, signing an exact duplicate copy of the same petition — except with the word “amended” added to the title, and the erratic notarization removed from the end. Again there was no hearing. This time, Judge Delsman signed it just over an hour after the papers were e-filed.
Blainey Elkins has not seen her beautiful son since. He just literally never came back from his grandma’s house.
Ms. Elkins’ child, now aged four, currently resides at his aunt’s house in California. Dove allegedly handed the baby over to her other daughter in the weeks following this ‘protective proceeding’ — or what we in the rest of the country like to call child trafficking.
What happened in the following weeks, months, and years is a tangle too complex to be told here, but Ms. Elkins has never wavered in her insistence that the circumstances that led up to the proceedings were manufactured by Dove and Perry, and that her signature was forged.
Unfortunately for Ms. Elkins, the OSB Client Assistance Office (CAO) never returned the desperate phone call that she made to them in February 2015.
Ms. Elkins then bounced off of various local authorities and Legal Aid in Albany, none of which would listen to her story that an attorney (of all people!) had forged someone’s signature.
For those who say that they would’ve kept calling the police and the OSB every day until their baby was returned, please be assured it is not that easy. In fact, it is almost the complete opposite: remember the saying that “possession is 9/10ths of the law.”
Thereafter, Ms. Elkins grew increasingly exhausted from trying to get help, and disheartened that nobody would believe her. She faced such idiocy as people telling her that she had signed the document, upon the evidence that her signature was on it and that it was filed with the court. She never gave up hope and she never stopped trying.
And then on April 8, 2018, when Perry’s disbarment was announced in the one and only article written about it in the local paper, Ms. Elkins was reenergized by whispers of other forgeries. She quickly made connections with Perry’s other victims.
After I ordered the case file and scrutinized the dishearteningly slim quantity of papers, an additional question arose: are those even Judge Delsman’s signatures?
Technically, yes, they are his electronic signatures. But one clue, in conjunction with the lack of any hearings, suggests that they were not legitimately obtained from him: there is no financial information at the bottom of the case docket, i.e. nobody paid the filing fee when the petition went in, nor is there any mention of a fee waiver. That is simply not how it works.
All of this suggests, perhaps most disturbingly, that Perry got an assist from an employee at the courthouse.
In considering this frightening possibility, it may be helpful to know that Megan Perry forged the signature of another judge and got those papers filed with the help of an employee at another courthouse.
Just two days after Perry created and uttered the forged divorce judgment that resulted in polygamy in Linn County, she was in Polk County Circuit Court causing similar problems.
In her first appearance in case 13P2615, Perry fraudulently obtained two court orders for her client, Marita Barth, in a way that eerily paralleled the Elkins’ matter.
If the orders are to be taken at face value, this is what happened: towards the end of the day on March 5, 2015, Perry slunk into the courthouse with Barth, handed papers to court staff (instead of properly e-filing them), somehow got Judge Norman Hill to read them and sign Perry’s draft order, which she then carried back to a clerk to be hand-stamped and filed.
Once again, there was no record of any hearing, nor was there a statutorily required affidavit accompanying the papers. The “other evidence” attested to in the petition was not filed and has never been produced.
One of the orders, a temporary stalking protective order against Barth’s ex-husband, was also instantly and without due process combined with the custody action that he had filed three months prior, instead of properly being assigned its own docket number. Nothing about the orders looked correct, including Judge Hill’s signatures.
Barth’s ex, Gavin McNett, was then never served with the orders, nor was a response hearing automatically scheduled. When he requested one, a new judge was assigned to hear the matter. This was also irregular, as it is statutorily required that a judge who first rules on a substantive matter in a case shall continue as judge.
Nearly two weeks later, and only after much insistence by Mr. McNett, Perry hastily produced an affidavit that allegedly accompanied the petitions, but was ‘inadvertently’ not filed. It was notarized by her husband, Erik JD Moeller, and ‘dated’ the same day as the other material filed thirteen days earlier. Interestingly, the affidavit caption did not match the motion caption, and had no hand-stamp on it. Even more noteworthy, it would be the only item in the entire case, filed under Perry, which Barth had signed.
The sum total of all the procedural ‘mistakes’ with the orders indicated that the papers were certainly falsified, and that they were docketed with the assistance of court staff. Polk County Trial Court Administrator Heidi Bittick has consistently blocked Mr. McNett’s attempts to authenticate the orders with Judge Hill and has since interfered in the case in other provable and extreme ways, drawing suspicion to herself.
On May 4, 2015, Mr. McNett was the first of Perry’s alleged crime victims to successfully land a complaint against her at the OSB.
While Stacy Owen of the Client Assistance Office (CAO) burned through brain cells trying to fathom how a judge whose signature was forged could be unaware of the forgery, Mr. McNett faced a stalking hearing which would disturbingly become the de facto first hearing in the custody matter that he himself had brought.
The judge that heard it, Sally Avera, was subjected to four hours of false and highly prejudicial material about Mr. McNett. Avera correctly vacated the temporary stalking order, indicating that she believed it to be garbage or improper to begin with, possibly even forged… however, she would never fully shake off that appalling hearing or Perry’s influence.
Twelve days later, all exhibits from the hearing were purged without any notice to Mr. McNett, heightening confidence that the order was forged. Remarkably, his attorney at the time, James D. Van Ness, raised no objections.
On July 8, 2015, the CAO dismissed Mr. McNett’s complaint against Perry, bizarrely stating that “without further evidence to suggest misconduct by Ms. Perry, we did not find it necessary to contact Judge Hill’s office.” Yes, the same Judge Hill who was — and still is — literally the only person who can verify his own signature.
The next three plus years of case 13P2615 and related matters remain a mess, due to additional criminal conduct by Perry and Bittick’s ongoing interference, including withholding filings from reaching the judge and refusing to provide trial transcripts and exhibits to the Court of Appeals. Little else explains Bittick’s misconduct except that she helped Perry create and docket the forgeries, and thus is heavily invested in the case’s outcome.
During her involvement, in addition to the two forged orders, Perry allegedly tampered with witnesses; forged and uttered a $5,700 check for payment of sanctions against her client; falsely swore and perjured herself on numerous occasions; and committed multiple acts of fraud, including claiming to have sent out dozens of subpoenas to “disprove medical child abuse.” Number of subpoenas actually sent out: zero. Mr. McNett filed a second complaint.
None of this stopped Avera from falling further and further under Perry’s spell, to the point that she disregarded Oregon statutes, UCCJEA³, and the rules of civil procedure, culminating in the shocking declaration that those subpoenas were “work product” and “privileged,” in addition to being non-existent.
It certainly appears that now-retired Sally Lou Stemmle Avera was bribed. It seems implausible that someone would provide services like those above just for the asking.
Over the last year, I have read every page of the 23 bar complaints against Megan Perry, and her responses, and nearly every page of the supporting documents. That is, every page except those which OSB spokesperson Kateri Walsh refused to provide to me… claiming at first that they didn’t exist, and then, in the alternative, that they were destroyed in accordance with their records retention policy, which they’d have me believe is less than a half year.
I have skimmed the dockets of all⁴ of Perry’s 339 cases — even the 93% that didn’t result in bar complaints. Many of these were clients funneled to Perry through the OSB’s “Modest Means Program.”
There is impropriety there that is visible from space, if anyone cares to look. For instance, here’s case no. 14PR00490, which took place in the same time frame, also with Judge Delsman, without any hearings, with the same notary, and everything just as ‘funny’ as with the Elkins’ case. Are those two “consent” forms forged? I would say yes. Notice how suddenly there’s an estate to tend to in the later documents? Notice how suddenly Erik Moeller comes to file a notice of termination just a week after Perry went inactive, despite years of inactivity in the case?
In other words, there is an enormous Perry-shaped iceberg lurking offshore, of which we’re currently only seeing the top 10%.
That’s what the Oregon State Bar fears: how many more of these victims are out there? How many other court documents did she forge? How many other court employees helped her? How much is this going to cost us? Will anyone ever trust the bar, the profession, or the judiciary ever again?
When the extent of Perry’s criminal conduct became apparent to the bar — and it became apparent that they had grossly mishandled her earliest complaints—they went into cover up mode: discouraging communication between the victims, ignoring tips that Perry was practicing while inactive and interfering with cases, discrediting my work, interfering with victims’ criminal complaints, neglecting to pursue additional bar complaints that were coming in, and refusing to properly handle the matters already under their care.
And then the Deputy General Counsel Mark Johnson Roberts neglected to properly address an allegation made by a local, well-respected attorney that Perry was busy shoveling her office into a shredder, i.e. destroying evidence in hundreds of cases, including federal ones. Cournoyer and Evans of the DCO then went even further to keep the matter from oozing out of their purview by refusing to contact the appropriate authorities and report Perry’s criminal conduct, as they are obligated to do under their own Rule of Procedure 3.3(a):
If the SPRB directs the filing of a formal complaint that alleges acts involving the possible commission of a crime that do not appear to have been the subject of a criminal prosecution, Disciplinary Counsel shall report the possible crime to the appropriate investigatory authority.
Even now, DCO is actively resisting acknowledging or reporting Perry’s criminal conduct, by disingenuously pretending that they “investigate crimes” — which they don’t — and then pretending that they found no “evidence” of crimes — which they actually did. But even if they hadn’t, they don’t need “evidence,” they need probable cause. And there was plenty of that.
In their defense of DCO, General Counsel Amber Hollister falsely claimed that Rule 3.3(a) didn’t apply anyway because Perry had not violated any ethical rule that “allege[s] a criminal act.” This was despite the fact that the bar’s ethical rules, like the administrative rules of the DMV, can only concern licensing. Bar rules do not, by definition, allege criminal acts.
Hollister seems to be ‘confusing’ Rule 3.3(a) with Rule 3.3(b):
On the filing of an accusatory instrument against an attorney for the commission of a misdemeanor that may involve moral turpitude or of a felony, Disciplinary Counsel shall determine whether a disciplinary investigation should be initiated against such attorney.
This rule states that the bar’s ethical rules are engaged when an attorney has been separately indicted, charged, or convicted of a crime by law enforcement. One puts the cart before the horse, and the other, the horse before the cart.
Most importantly, Rule 3.3(a) does not say that any particular bar rule needs to have been broken to trigger the mandatory reporting of “alleged criminal acts” to law enforcement. DCO certainly described Perry’s criminal acts in great detail in their summaries. Even if there were such a thing as a particular bar rule that “alleges a criminal act,” it would have been negligence on the part of the DCO to fail to list this imaginary rule in its reports to the SPRB — and bad faith to only raise it now as an excuse.
But it wasn’t negligence. None of it. It was very much deliberate, calculating, and designed to protect themselves, their image, and their livelihoods.
All of these self-preservatory intentions culminated in the OSB’s frantic quashing of mainstream media stories and their refusal to publish news of Perry’s disbarment in their monthly periodical. That is, until they were finally shamed into doing so. By me.
In terms of protecting the public and being transparent — duties and values they claim to cherish in their mission statement— something went terribly wrong in the OSB’s handling of Perry.
For Perry, though, a skilled manipulator and compulsive liar, everything went almost exactly as she conspired that it would: sure she lost her license, but that certainly won’t slow down her legal (or criminal) career — especially since she tricked the OSB into helping her out with that pesky criminal charge thingy and virtually nobody knows that she’s disbarred.
The OSB’s unconditional and near-hysterical refusal to report Megan Perry for her criminal conduct is absolutely damning, looks prima facie improper, and is the opposite of transparent. It deliberately perpetuates the fraudulent notion that a state bar’s actions resolve criminal matters.
As evidenced by the OSB’s doubling down on their poor decisions, they cling to the belief that they still possess what they foolishly negotiated from Megan Perry: security for the bar, the legal profession, and the judiciary.
Well, that protection was illusory to begin with. And now, as the “appropriate authorities” are coming to terms with the OSB’s deceptive mishandling of the matter, the illusion is rapidly fading. Ask yourself, especially if you are a dues-paying member of the Oregon State Bar: is anybody better off besides Megan Perry?
Please consider donating to the fundraising page created to help Blainey Elkins with her legal expenses necessary to reunite her with her son.
¹ Meaning, 7% of all of Megan Perry’s cases resulted in a bar complaint against her.
² Or possibly money, as Chief Judge James Egan of the Court of Appeals helpfully suggested.
³ Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
⁴ Yes, all.