A state contract for a Central Oregon legal defense group has not been extended following allegations of lying to court staff to receive more money.
The general counsel of the Oregon Office of Public Defense Services on Tuesday sent a memo to the office’s executive director and the head of its commission informing them why the office had elected to not extend its contract with the Madras Indigent Defense Consortium.
“It became clear to us that MIDC was manipulating case assignments by providing misrepresentations to the court about case quota,” Eric J. Deitrick, the office’s general counsel, wrote in the memo. “The manipulations also involved harassing behavior toward staff.”
Tim Gassner, a member of the MIDC, said he was shocked when he learned about the allegations two weeks ago, and said the Oregon Office of Public Defense Services was trying to deflect from its own problems.
“The decision is disregarding the best interest of Jefferson County and its residents,” Gassner said Tuesday.
Oregon’s 22nd Judicial District encompasses Crook and Jefferson counties. Since 2006, two lawyer groups have worked state contracts to provide public defense to indigent clients in the district.
One of them is the 22nd District Defenders, which accepts cases in Crook and Jefferson counties. It has about nine to 10 lawyers at any time.
The other is MIDC, which only works cases in Jefferson County. It has four to five attorneys. Its contract has excluded several types of cases — representing youth in juvenile dependency cases and cases involving Measure 11, which assigns lengthy prison terms for sex-related and serious violent crimes.
In his memo, Deitrick said MIDC received more cases than it should have under its contract.
MIDC reported to OPDS it was over its quota by $35,000, according to Deitrick.
In January, a nonprofit organization released a study that found Oregon’s public defense system was so underfunded, it was unconstitutional.
The Oregon Office of Public Defense Services tried to address the matter legislatively during the 2019 legislative session, but its proposed bill, House Bill 3145, failed to gain needed support.
So the office elected to offer public defense firms six-month contracts instead of 2-year contracts, which it had done since the mid-2000s, Deitrick said.
In his memo, Deitrick said the office elected to not offer an extension to one other public defense group aside from MIDC — Independent Defenders Inc. of Clackamas County.
Last year, Deitrick and one of the public defense office’s caseload analysts visited with MIDC. He wrote in the memo one of the consortium’s attorneys — William Carl — was “clearly disoriented.”
“Others listened but it was unclear to me what Mr. Carl was doing,” Deitrick wrote.
Deitrick and the analyst next met with staff at the Jefferson County Courthouse. This is when Deitrick developed suspicions about MIDC manipulating caseload data, he wrote in the memo.
The office learned several days later that Carl is the subject of a law enforcement investigation into the suspected arson of his own law office.
Carl was later removed from the consortium.
Deitrick wrote that OPDS learned about the suspected arson through news articles, and heard “nothing” from MIDC. The office also never received information about the legal qualifications of a different MIDC lawyer, Marcus Gipson.
After the in-person visit with MIDC lawyers, the alleged manipulations continued, according to Deitrick. The public defense commission received one letter of concern regarding MIDC from retired Judge Daniel Ahern.
In March, OPDS learned MIDC attorneys were “simply approaching clients and standing next to them during the arraignment, as some sort of show of authority that MIDC should be assigned the case,” according to the memo.
In explaining his decision to not extend MIDC’s contract, Deitrick said the 22nd Judicial District isn’t so large it needs two contracted public defense firms. He suggested lawyers involved with MIDC join the 22nd District Defenders.
Gassner, of MIDC, called assertions regarding Carl and arson “rumor-mongering” and said Madras Police are still investigating.
He called the allegations of manipulating caseload “completely manufactured.”
“There is absolutely no truth to those statements,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org