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Photo Credit: COURTESY OF KOIN NEWS 6 - First Lady Cylvia Hayes, here during a press conference last year, and Gov. John Kitzhaber have hired a Portland law firm to handle any potential state ethics inquiry.SALEM — Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, have hired a prominent Portland law firm to represent them ahead of a potential state ethics inquiry.

The announcement by the governor’s office on Tuesday also followed a report by Willamette Week on Friday that the FBI was investigating Hayes for undisclosed reasons. The weekly newspaper was also the first to report that Hayes signed three private consulting contracts in 2013, to work on some of the same issues on which she served as an unpaid policy adviser to Kitzhaber.

The Portland Tribune was unable to independently confirm the existence if an investigation.

In a statement Tuesday, Kitzhaber press secretary Chris Pair said law enforcement had not contacted the governor, Hayes or any employees in the governor’s office.

“Based on recent news accounts the governor and First Lady want to clarify that neither they, nor the governor’s office has had any contact or communication from any law enforcement agencies regarding the First Lady’s activities and are unaware of any investigation,” Pair wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. “Clearly, if contacted they will fully cooperate.”

Kitzhaber and Hayes hired lawyers Steve Janik and Jim McDermott “in early November,” Pair wrote. On Nov. 4, Kitzhaber won reelection to an unprecedented fourth term.

Janik and McDermott have experience with civil law and specialized topics such as real estate, but they are not criminal lawyers.

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele declined to comment on whether the agency was investigating Hayes, citing federal regulations to prohibit the agency from commenting on whether it has opened an investigation into any person or entity.

State preliminary review

In October, lawyers for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson asked U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall to investigate whether Kitzhaber and Hayes used their public positions for private financial gain and violated federal law.

Richardson’s lawyers referred to a statute that prosecutors have used to charge corrupt officials for depriving citizens of their rights to honest and fair services. A spokeswoman for Marshall’s office also declined to comment.

Kitzhaber and Hayes also face possible investigation by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, whose employees are conducting a preliminary review to determine whether to proceed with a full-blown inquiry.

Under state ethics law, it is illegal for public officials to use their positions for private gain. The commission previously faced statutory deadlines of Feb. 27 to decide whether to proceed with a formal investigation of Hayes, and Feb. 28 to decide whether to move ahead with a formal investigation of Kitzhaber.

According to Pair, Kitzhaber, Hayes and the ethics commission jointly agreed to extend the deadlines and the commission is scheduled to render decisions on both cases on March 13.

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