A contentious Deschutes County divorce case now includes allegations that the wife leaked confidential records from the KIDS Center, a child abuse investigation organization, to an online publication that claims to “vindicate” the innocent.
Three parties have asked a judge to find Bend resident Beth Skaug in contempt of court for allegedly passing protected information to the US Observer, a Grants Pass-based true-crime publication with a national online reach. Motions seeking sanctions against Beth Skaug have been filed by attorneys for her two children, as well as the Bend-based KIDS Center and Beth Skaug’s former husband, Brian Skaug.
Brian Skaug is the subject of the recent article in the U.S. Observer titled, “Deschutes County Judge Alycia Sykora Dismisses God, Favors Purported Pedophile,” which does not portray him in a good light. The piece tells the story of the couple’s divorce from her point of view, lambasting the officials and attorneys involved in her case, from her allegedly incompetent attorney to the “sketchy” polygrapher to the God-denying judge.
“Seriously, you can’t make this up!” the article states.
Below the article, the author urges anyone with information about the case to contact the Observer. “Two young children’s lives are at stake.”
After publication of the article this year, Beth Skaug circulated copies of the Observer containing the article in Bend as well as at residences near Brian Skaug’s new home in Washington, where he lives with the couple’s children, according to Sarah Harlos, attorney for the Skaug children.
Attorneys state in court records that the highly sensitive information contained in the Observer article could have only come from Beth Skaug, an alleged violation of orders by the court and state agencies involved in the matter.
“The Observer’s stated goal is force someone to do the right thing ‘until they are ruined,’” Harlos wrote in a declaration with the court.
Allegations against Brian Skaug of child sexual abuse were reviewed by the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office and were determined to be unfounded, according to Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel.
The Skaug case is highly complicated and remains open 20 months after divorce proceedings began. The fitness of both parents is just one of the issues being parsed over dozens of court filings.
The case involves allegations of child sexual abuse by Brian Skaug that have been recanted, according to court filings.
Gil Levy, executive director of the KIDS Center declined to comment. Judge Alycia Sykora did not return an email seeking comment.
Brian Skaug declined to comment through his attorney, Todd Wilson.
Beth Skaug also did not wish to answer questions, citing pending litigation.
“Who hired you to write this article?” she asked before declining further comment.
According to its website, the US Observer is a private organization hired by people involved in civil and criminal cases to “vindicate” them with facts from the public record. It was founded by Edward Snook as the Oregon Observer in 1990 after Snook, then a private investigator, suffered a bad encounter with a “prejudiced judge,” according to a 2017 piece on the site. The publication was rebranded with a national focus around 2005.
The site claims to “obtain evidence that attorneys and licensed investigators cannot obtain because of the many licensing rules that they must follow. We have no rules.”
Snook denied that his publication charged a fee for the Skaug article, an assertion made in numerous court filings in the case.
“We do not charge for writing articles,” he wrote The Bulletin.
Harlos called Snook in May and demanded the article be taken down, according to court filings.
Snook said he asked for proof the children had recanted their accusations.
“To this date I have not received any such proof,” Snook told The Bulletin. “The bottom line is what is best for the children. We stand by the facts we published.” Snook declined to answer additional questions, such as whether he consults both sides in articles about civil and criminal cases.
“In fact, the answers to your other inquiries are beside the point. The point is, the facts speak for themselves,” he said.
Tim Gleason, journalism professor with the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, said he’s concerned with the ethics of sites like the Observer, which are effectively advocacy sites masquerading as legitimate news outlets.
“These sites raise concerns because their goal is not to inform in any sort of objective way,” Gleason said.
The flip side to websites like the Observer are operations that post public information from arrests, like mugshots, and charge the subjects fees for removal.
Nonprofit newsrooms like ProPublica are committed to ethical investigative journalism and are transparent about their methods, Gleason said.
Sites like the Observer, on the other hand, play into a deep and growing cynicism in the U.S., Gleason said.
“I would reject out of hand their broad statements made throughout their materials that it is a corrupt system and that individuals who are part of that system are corrupt,” Gleason said. “Their underlying premise is false and their methods are unethical.”
Gleason said he has a problem with the Observer’s assertion they use only the facts in their coverage.
“I don’t believe that,” Gleason said. “I don’t believe they have all the facts.”