New twists in Democratic donor Terry Bean's prosecution
One of the strangest legal cases in Oregon continues to get weirder, and now a lawyer in Portland is fighting for his reputation.
Prosecutors earlier this year reinvigorated the sex abuse prosecution of a prominent Democratic donor and activist, Terry Bean, based on an alleged 2013 hotel-room encounter with a then-15-year-old boy.
The case appeared largely unchanged until late last month, when newly filed documents showed what appear to be a close collaboration between Bean's lawyer, Derek Ashton, and the lawyer for the alleged victim, known as "M.S.G.," to keep him from testifying in a 2015 trial.
His lack of testimony led to the case collapsing.
"Let's finish these guys," Ashton wrote to M.S.G.'s then-lawyer in an Aug. 26, 2015, text message, according to court records.
Now, armed with texts, emails, bank records and the cooperation of a lawyer and a legal assistant who allegedly participated in the effort to hide the witness, the focus of the criminal investigation has turned to Ashton — himself a former prosecutor — and whether the $220,000 settlement to the alleged victim that the lawyer engineered constituted bribery.
Meanwhile, Ashton also faces an ethics probe opened Sept. 4 by the organization that oversees lawyers, the Oregon State Bar.
The situation shows new jeopardy, not just for Ashton, but for Bean, who is considered a hero to many for his gay marriage activism. It also sheds light on the sometimes-murky area between criminal law, with its potential for prison time, and its civil cousin, in which cases revolve around money.
An Aug. 30 motion filed by prosecutors in Lane County Circuit Court reveals the details of M.S.G's account to police that he was paid to not testify in the criminal case. It says the alleged victim's then-lawyer, Lori Deveny, also engaged in a "conspiracy" with Ashton "to absent her client ... for a sum of money, from subpoena service and his consequential unavailability to testify at the pending criminal trial."
The filing details new emails, text messages, cell call records, bank statements and legal bills to support the prosecutor's claim that the actions "implicate" the statutes prohibiting "bribery" of a witness.
Ashton, for his part, has denied any wrongdoing by either him or his client in court filings. He and Bean's other lawyers have accused the prosecution of making trumped-up claims in order to sway the case, saying the payment was merely to settle a threatened civil lawsuit, to spare Bean damage to his reputation.
"The message they are now sending to every attorney in the state is that if you settle a civil lawsuit when a criminal case is pending, then a desperate prosecutor might subsequently charge you with a crime," said Cliff Davidson, another Bean lawyer and a partner of Ashton's at the firm Sussman Shank. "That is not the law and it should not be the policy of the state."
Arden Olson, the lawyer defending Ashton in the Bar ethics probe, said in an email, "We question the motivation, timing and credibility of the prosecutor's statements in court and the prosecutor's recent filing."
In Oregon, certain criminal cases can be dismissed under what's called a "civil compromise" if the defendant agrees to pays the victim a negotiated sum and the judge approves it.
In the Bean case, a judge in 2015 rejected a proposed civil compromise, saying it was inappropriate for a child sex abuse case.
But civil negotiations continued anyway, leading to an initial $20,000 payment before the prosecution's case imploded due to M.S.G.'s non-cooperation, and another $200,000 after the case was dropped.
To avoid police tracking down the alleged victim for purposes of making him testify in the case, M.S.G.'s lawyer, Deveny, worked with her friend, Deanna Wray, to hide him in Wray's family cabin in a remote location in Oregon, according to an affidavit filed recently. The effort involved a "burner" cell phone and the disabling of a rental car's "LoJack" tracking device.
Tung Yin, a professor at Lewis & Clark School of Law, said the filings in the case so far allow for either interpretation — Ashton's or the prosecutors — to be true.
But he said the notion that Bean paid $200,000 to avoid harm to his reputation is open to question. Bean "really doesn't have much of a reputation at this point," following the aborted 2015 trial, the professor said.
The other part of Ashton's story — that M.S.G. did not want to testify in criminal court but was ready to sue Bean in 2015, prompting the settlement — also could be subject to attack.
"If the victim is so unwilling to come forward (in the criminal case)," Yin said, "It's a little hard to see why he would be motivated to come forward in the civil case, where he would need to testify, be cross-examined and so on ... It would be the same concerns."
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