Saturday, April 11, 2015

"The Governor's idiot fiance"....what might be read into Duke Shepherd's "harsh" email about Cylvia Hayes


The other day, the Oregonian published an unsolicited email from Duke Shepherd, who had served as ex-Governor Kitzhaber's labor and human services policy adviser. The key part of the email reads:

For the record, other than keeping her occasionally updated on what we might be doing, the Governor's idiot fiancé had no engagement into the $100 M. Kitzhaber wanted a "game changing" investment in housing for homeless families -- because it cut across all the key priorities, but especially Early Learning. He directed Margaret and me to make it happen. We did. Margaret especially (we initially were aiming for $200M).

Cylvia had lots of mind numbing meetings on poverty. She gave lots of speeches. She had no role in this substantial and critically important decision on housing for the 15-17 budget. We kept her posted to keep her off our backs and off of his. But the budget wasn't hers.

"[I]diot fiance" ... ? That is pretty harsh (as the Oregonian characterized it).

Note that Shepherd now works for the Oregon Health & Science University. Back when he was working for Kitzhaber, though, he apparently dared not express such open contempt to Cylvia Hayes. The Oregonian printed a presumably representative email in which Shepherd, after being castigated by Hayes for not keeping her updated about some project, responded, "I'm very sorry for my oversight in communication on this matter. I should have remembered to update you in a timely manner."

To be fair, Shepherd's response seems entirely professional and civil. The point is that it stands in stark contrast to his current email. So what are we to make of the change in tone and substance?

One possibility is that this is some kind of damage control on behalf of Kitzhaber. By calling Hayes the "idiot fiance," Shepherd distances himself from her, and thereby adds credibility in stating that she had no influence on the low income housing project. If other former aides to the ex-Governor have similar things to say, that would benefit Hayes and Kitzhaber - though at the price of public humiliation - because it would tend to weaken any theory of influence peddling by her.

I went back to the known FBI subpoena to see if Duke Shepherd's name is listed; it's not. Of course, just because someone is listed on the subpoena doesn't mean he or she is a potential target*, and not being listed on the subpoena isn't any kind of immunity. However, it does suggest that as of right now, Shepherd's previous project isn't of primary interest to the FBI.

* Nkenge Harmon-Johnson is probably the easiest example of this; she's listed on the subpoena as someone whom emails to or from are to be produced to the FBI, yet she hasn't requested public funding for a lawyer, and it appears that she was a victim of Hayes' capricious temper.

Another possibility for the harsh email is that there is no more concern about burning a bridge, because the bridge has already collapsed completely with no hope of ever being rebuilt. If other former aides also recognize that the bridge is gone, there may be cooperation with the FBI going on behind the scenes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Is Cylvia Hayes really entitled to taxpayer-funding of her lawyer to block access to her emails?

The Oregonian reports that former First Lady Cylvia Hayes' lawyer, Whitney Boise, argued in a filing last week that Hayes is entitled to public funding of his attorney's fees for representing her in her effort to block public access to her emails:
As a state agency, Ms. Hayes is authorized by ORS 192.450(3) to retain special counsel to represent her in the legal challenge to the Attorney General's disclosure order. As the Attorney General's Office is prohibited from acting as special counsel in this proceeding, Ms. Hayes has hired me. This conclusion, that Ms. Hayes be allowed to retain special counsel. is further codified in ORS 182.235. Under this statute, where the Attorney General has a conflict, the state officer or agency may employ its own special counsel. ORS 182.235(1).
Based on the above statutes, I am requesting that the legal fees and costs incurred by Ms. Hayes in this case be paid by the State of Oregon. Please let me know as soon as possible whether this request will be granted. 
(Note that there's a typo in the letter. The correct statutory section is ORS 180.235, not 182.235).

This is a creative argument. It may sound outlandish, but there are other situations in which the public is obligated to pay for the attorneys to defend someone that the public is, ostensibly, in an adverse position to - for example, criminal defense. The overarching principle is that the public interest in ensuring adequate legal representation for indigent persons charged with crimes is more important than the mere interest in the public fisc; after all, criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and it benefits society to have confidence that a convicted defendant received a fair trial.

It's less clear that in a public records dispute, there's a similar public interest, but I suppose one could argue that without some legal guarantee that a state agency would be able to defend its records from unreasonable or unwarranted public disclosure, qualified persons might be dissuaded from seeking public office or employment.

But what do Oregon laws actually say? Let's take a look. First, we'll start with ORS 192.450:
(3) The Attorney General shall serve as counsel for the state agency in a suit filed under subsection (2) of this section if the suit arises out of a determination by the Attorney General that the public record should not be disclosed, or that a part of the public record should not be disclosed if the state agency has fully complied with the order of the Attorney General requiring disclosure of another part or parts of the public record, and in no other case. In any case in which the Attorney General is prohibited from serving as counsel for the state agency, the agency may retain special counsel.
So far, Mr. Boise is correct. ORS 192.450 obligates the Attorney General to defend the state agency if she determines that the records sought should not be disclosed, and the petitioner (i.e., the person seeking the records) sues to overturn that determination. In this matter, however, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum ordered the disclosure of the records, so the last sentence of subpart (3) is operative: "the agency may retain special counsel."

But that statute says nothing about who pays for the special counsel. Mr. Boise cites ORS 180.235, which is titled "Authority of agency to employ counsel" and which states in relevant part:
(1) Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, whenever the Attorney General concludes that it is inappropriate and contrary to the public interest for the office of the Attorney General to concurrently represent more than one public officer or agency in a particular matter or class of matters in circumstances which would create or tend to create a conflict of interest on the part of the Attorney General, the Attorney General may authorize one or both of such officers or agencies to employ its own general or special counsel in the particular matter or class of matters and in related matters. Such authorization may be terminated by the Attorney General whenever the Attorney General determines that separate representation is no longer appropriate. 
(2) Any counsel so employed shall be a member of the Oregon State Bar and shall be paid a salary or other compensation out of the funds appropriated to such officer or agency.

It certainly makes sense that an agency disagreeing with the Attorney General's determination in a public records fight would be allowed to retain its own lawyer to litigate the matter. But notice that ORS 180.235(2) states that it is the agency that pays for the lawyer out of its own budget. This too makes sense, in that it creates an incentive for an agency to think carefully about whether each public records request is worth fighting. If so, the agency has to put its money where its mouth is, so to speak. Without such a requirement, the agency would have no incentive not to over-litigate public records disclosures.

The wrinkle here is that Ms. Hayes was paid no salary and had no state funds formally appropriated to her, though one might argue that the nature of her position as a state officer flowed from her relationship with the former Governor, and hence the funding should come out of the budget for the Governor's office. I imagine that if we were to go down that route, though, that current Governor Kate Brown would decline to pay for Mr. Boise's fees out of her budget - and if forced, she might just disclaim any privacy interest in the records on the part of the Governor's office.