An Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigator recommended in a 32-page report that the commission dismiss an ethics complaint against former Lane County commissioner Rob Handy. After debate, the six members of the ethics commission present at the July 12 meeting did not reach the four votes needed to either move forward with or dismiss the complaint. As the Handy case statutorily expired July 17, this ends a chapter in what some see as a vendetta against Handy and other progressive politicians. Handy said in a statement that he hopes “this kind of targeting doesn’t stop other progressives from seeking office because there is too much at stake in Lane County.”
The case began in May 2012 when attorney Alan Thayer, representing Eugene businessman John Brown, complained that it was unethical for Handy to ask Brown and others to make donations toward his $20,000 debt that stemmed from an earlier Seneca Timber-funded case against progressive county commissioners. Handy said he checked with the county’s finance department before asking supporters to assist with the debt.
Handy said at the time that he would be cleared of all allegations and called them “a smear tactic.” In addition to the end of the ethics commission investigation, the Oregon Department of Justice decided last fall against filing criminal charges against Handy.
One of Handy’s attorneys, Brian Michaels, said the issue revolved around whether Brown had a “legislative, economic or administrative interest” when Handy solicited a donation. The investigation determined that he did not.
Michaels, who attended the ethics commission meeting, said that hearings earlier in the day were “friendly, nonpolitical” but that when Handy’s case came up, former speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Larry Campbell made the hearing “way more political than anything I had seen all day.” Campbell was a Republican representative out of Eugene in the Legislature in the 1990s. Michaels said, “Someone had more politics than discretion.”
Michaels said Campbell insulted him and Handy’s other attorney Marianne Dugan and questioned whether the investigator did her job. The director of the Ethics Commission and an assistant attorney general signed off on her report.
“What they are really saying to those people is ‘We don’t believe you, trust you, respect you.’ Which they didn’t say in those words, but by contesting them, they were saying, ‘We know more than you do even though you took all these months to do this investigation,’” Michaels said of the three committee members — including the member who originally put forth a motion to dismiss — voting against dismissal.
The end result though, since the committee took no action, is that the case expired July 17, and as Handy predicted shortly before the May election that he lost to Pat Farr, he was not found guilty of any ethics violations.
Michaels said, “There was no hint or appearance of a corrupt result” in Handy’s asking for aid with his debt. “Yes, this was a gift but it’s only an improper gift if there was a corrupt appearance or intent.”