Public defenders lose state contract, accused of misconduct
The Madras Indigent Defense Consortium and the general counsel for the Oregon Office of Public Defense Services are telling two very different stories. The office recently decided not to renew the local attorney group's contract, making numerous allegations of misconduct.
Instead, the state office decided Jefferson and Crook counties need only one defense consortium, the 22nd Circuit Defenders.
MIDC administrator Tim Gassner and member attorney David Glenn strenuously denied the allegations.
The contract is worth more than $800,000 over two years. Local government agencies and the consortium are worried that if the contract is not renewed, Madras will lose attorneys and may have trouble recruiting new ones.
Eric Deitrick, the general counsel for the Office of Public Defense Services, said the Madras attorneys manipulated their caseload in order to get more cases than the office allotted.
"There is no means for us to influence the court to try and receive more cases than we were supposed to," Gassner said. "The accusation by Eric Deitrick is baseless and reflects his ignorance as to the actual mechanics of case assignments in Jefferson County."
Cases are assigned two ways, he said. If a defendant were in custody, the court would call MIDC or the 22nd Circuit Defenders. Defendants who are not in custody are arraigned every other Thursday morning. Public defense attorneys are expected to be at the courthouse to receive appointments.
Retired Judge Dan Ahern wrote to the Public Defense Services Commission asking it to reconsider the Public Defense Services' decision not to extend MIDC's contract.
He said the allegations "have not changed my opinion in any way."
Ahern added that if MIDC attorneys did anything wrong, they should correct it.
"As far as appointments, the attorneys from Madras cannot manipulate their appointments because only a judge appoints," Ahern said. "When I was there ... if there was an attorney in the courtroom, I'd always appoint that attorney so (the defendant) could meet them immediately."
Later, staff would make adjustments so that both groups got the number of cases they were supposed to be assigned, he said.
In his memo, Deitrick said, "In March 2019, we were informed that MIDC attorneys were simply approaching clients and standing next to them during arraignment, as some sort of show of authority that MIDC should be assigned the case."Ahern said both MIDC and 22nd Circuit Defenders attorneys would often stand next to a client, particularly if they had defended that client before.
"Some of our defendants have appeared in front of the court for 10 and 20 years," Ahern said. "They're repeat offenders, and if they've had the same attorney historically represent them ... it's not uncommon."
"To the extent that they came up and stood by a defendant," Ahern said, "that has no bearing for me as a judge because they're standing there, whether to grant their request or not."
Gassner said much the same thing. "... there are occasions that we know when we are going to get appointed to certain defendants based on our representation of the same individual," he said. "Otherwise, there is no reason for us to try and stand next (to) defendants as a show of authority because the decision as to who gets the appointment is out of our hands."
Deitrick also alleged that attorney Marcus Gipson was advising clients to say they wanted an attorney from MIDC.
"This is a baseless allegation and did not occur," Gassner said.
In response to an email asking for clarification, Deitrick said, "... we will defer to the memorandum I wrote to the chair of the (Public Defense Services Commission)."
In the memo, Deitrick said attorney Marcus Gipson "had no relevant legal experience ... he was not qualified to felony or juvenile dependency cases."
Gassner and Glenn said Gipson was being mentored by them.
Gassner said, "Every year, new lawyers are admitted to practice and go to work for firms doing indigent defense. Such was the case with Marcus Gipson."
"He wasn't allowed to take cases by himself," Gassner said.
Ahern said it was common for new attorneys to do routine hearings but not to provide a defense for clients.
Gassner added that over the weekend, the commission discussed changing the qualifications for juvenile dependency cases because it is difficult for unqualified attorneys to become qualified for those cases.
Deitrick said MIDC did not notify his office about misconduct by one MIDC attorney or about an arson fire at Glenn, Reeder & Gassner in May.
Gassner said he notified the office about both. The attorney accused of misconduct was terminated by Glenn, Reeder & Gassner, and within about a week, the firm hired Gipson. Gassner said he told the office about the firing and hiring at the same time.
He also said he called the Office of Public Defense Services after the fire on Saturday, May 25. He said that allegation was personal for him. He had to cut a family vacation short to get a new office running by the following Tuesday.
"I was working off of a checklist, which included a telephone call to the Office of Public Defense Services to let them know that there had been a fire but we were, nonetheless, open for business so that our clients' cases would not be compromised."
Deitrick also said Gassner told him the name of a person of interest in the arson. Gassner said he didn't name anyone.
"I had previously been admonished by law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office from talking about the open investigation, and I would not have made that remark," he said.
Madras police are investigating the fire; no one has been charged.
City Council and County Commission
Gassner and attorney Paul Sumner went to the Madras City Council asking for a letter of support for the MIDC on Tuesday, Oct. 22, the day before a story about the allegations appeared in the Bend Bulletin.
As he made his case to the council, he said, "And the Office of Defense Services did not really give us an explanation of why."
He said the news "came as something of a shock to us."
When asked why he didn't mention the allegations, Gassner said the first he heard of them was from a Bend Bulletin reporter while he was driving to the council meeting. It wasn't until after the meeting that he received the memo from Deitrick, he said.
Police Chief Tanner Stanfill said on Monday, Oct. 28, that the city attorney is reviewing the letter of support.
Council President Bartt Brick, who ran the Oct. 22 meeting, said the allegations are serious, and he would like to give the attorneys a chance to respond.
He said if Gassner and attorney Paul Sumner knew about the allegations and didn't tell the council, that would be "very upsetting." But he said he wanted to withhold judgment until he could hear both sides of the story.
At its Nov. 6 meeting, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners will consider sending a letter to the Public Defense Services Commission asking it to reconsider giving the contract to the MIDC and questioning the legal bidding process.
Gassner said the final decision on MIDC's contract has not been made, and Glenn said the commission wants MIDC to respond to Deitrick's memo.
Gassner suspected that the 22nd Circuit Defenders might be behind the allegations.
"They certainly didn't come from me," said the group's administrator, Jennifer Kimble.
"I think that Salem made this decision based on erroneous information," Gassner said. "People should know that the decision was not made with the best interests of the residents of Jefferson County at heart."
He said Kimble told him "face to face that she wanted to assume control of our contract."
At the time, Gassner was being considered to replace Ahern as judge, and Gassner said Kimble told him she hoped he would get the position because it would be easier for the 22nd Circuit Defenders to assume the contract.
Kimble describes the conversation differently.
"I offered to him that if there was no one else available that if he did get the judgeship," her group could take the contract, she said. "It's not something that we wanted ... I did that as a friend. I didn't do it as a competitor."
Gassner believes the state Office of Public Defense Services wants the 22nd Circuit Defenders to have the sole contract in the district because it would be easier to make the attorneys state employees since they are not in private practice, which would fit legislation being promoted in Salem.
In the meantime, the 22nd Circuit Defenders have been notified that they will need to hire extra attorneys, Kimble said.
The group already had an opening in Madras it was advertising, she noted.
Kimble assumes some of the Madras attorneys will join the 22nd Circuit Defenders. Unlike the MIDC attorneys, all of the 22nd Circuit Defenders' attorneys only do public defense and pro bono cases. But having private practice is not just allowed, it's encouraged, Kimble said, because "all sorts of legal issues come up."
"It's just always our goal to make sure that the citizens of Crook and Jefferson (counties) have good quality legal representation," she said, "and it's my goal to see that that continues."
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