Are the New Lane County Commissioners Already Compromising on Principles in
Settlement Over Oregon Public Meetings Law?
Never Mind the Old Ones, I Know They Don’t Have Any!
-By Scott Rohter, April 2011
“If you always support the correct principles, then you will never get the wrong results.”
– President Andrew Johnson
What? I just can’t believe it! We just re-elected an appropriately contrite, and repentant Faye Stewart to another term as our County Commissioner, and we elected two new, supposedly fiscally conservative, Republican Commissioners to join him on the Lane County Board of Commissioners, and only three months into their terms, you can’t even tell the difference between this Board of Commissioners, and the last Board of Commissioners! They are doing exactly the same thing! They are still meeting in secret, behind closed doors, and they already appear to be compromising on principles! The 17th President of the United States of America, Andrew Johnson who succeeded Abraham Lincoln, and who served our country well from 1865 to 1869, during some very difficult times said, “If you always support the correct principles, then you will never get the wrong results!”
Well, the property tax-paying residents of Lane County certainly got the wrong results... last week, when our Board of Commissioners voted to whitewash over the illegal misdoings of Democratic Commissioners Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy, who were both found guilty of willfully violating Oregon’s Public Meetings Law. “This agreement is certainly in the highest ideal of public service,” Judge Michael Hogan said. He went on to say, “I know that taxpayers like myself will appreciate how the Commissioners have resolved this matter.” Well excuse me your honor! I’m a taxpayer and unlike you sir, I don’t appreciate how they resolved this matter! They look like a bunch of pushovers to me! Judge Hogan certainly doesn’t speak for me, and apparently neither do any of my County Commissioners! What say the rest of you?
As a taxpayer, I don’t appreciate having to pay almost $350,000 dollars in legal bills to defend Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy when I don’t have to! I don’t appreciate paying another $350,000 dollars for the plaintiff’s legal bills either when I don’t have to! And I don’t appreciate the fact that Sorenson and Handy do not have to admit to any wrongdoing, when they actually did commit plenty of wrongdoing! I don’t like it either that the Lane County Board of Commissioners as a group, is accepting collective responsibility for what only two of its members willfully did on their own! It all seems a bit too muddled for me, with the appropriate parties not actually accepting responsibility for what they did! I don’t appreciate it either that Sorenson and Handy will only receive a little slap on the wrist for what they did, and a mere $20,000 dollar token fine for each of them, to be paid back over the next three years! I would much rather see them resign in disgrace, and then and only then talk to them about mitigating their legal bills! But do you know what the biggest slap in the face is to me? The Board’s decision to compromise on this matter was once again made in a private closed door meeting, without so much as even one member of the public present to watch what was going on! Isn’t that basically what Sorenson and Handy got in trouble for in the first place, which provoked the law suit that found at least three Lane County Commissioners were guilty of violating the spirit and the intent of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law, but only found two of the Commissioners guilty of willfully violating the law!
Judge Michael Hogan said, “Taxpayers like myself will appreciate how the County Commissioners resolved this.” Well, I’m a taxpayer, but not apparently like the judge is, because I don’t appreciate any of this! It looks to me like my County Commissioners just sold us out and rolled over for the “Democratic Party Machine of Lane County.” I mean who is actually running this County anyway? Is it our elected County Commissioners or is it appointed Judge Michael Hogan, and retired Circuit Court Judge Lyle Velure? Did you know that former Judge Velure is a registered Democrat, and he might be referred to in some Eugene circles as a real “mover and shaker,” especially when it comes to Democratic Party politics! Oh, you didn’t know that? Did they also neglect to tell you that the judge normally makes thousands of dollars traveling around the state and mediating matters like this. I wonder whether he donated his ‘non partisan’ legal services to Lane County in this matter or did the taxpayers get stuck with his bill too?
It appears to me that the most important college class that a young law student could take in order to become a successful lawyer or judge, might be aptly called “How to look you right in the eye and lie to you with a straight face!” It is obviously much more important than learning the law! Just ask attorney Peter Sorenson, who supposedly didn't know the law. He was found guilty of breaking the law, although he has been an attorney and an elected public official for twenty years, having served in the State Legislature as well as on the County Board of Commissioners! He must have been asleep during that class about the Oregon Public Meetings Law! For any one else, ignorance of the law would be no excuse! The Court would merely pronounce judgment on the guilty party: Guilty, pay the clerk! But not for Peter Sorenson. No, Peter has only had to look people right in the eye for the past 3 1/2 months, ever since the lawsuit was adjudicated, including the time that he spent on the stand under oath testifying, and continue to lie to people with a straight face! He obviously took the required college course on lying as a young law student, and he must have managed to stay awake during that class, because he has been doing a pretty darn good job of lying so far! The ability to be able to lie with a straight face, while looking you right in the eye, has proven to be of far more value to Peter Sorenson, than merely knowing what the law is, or even obeying it!
Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy could have admitted to wrongdoing a long time ago, and paid a small fine for violating Oregon’s Public Meetings Law, before any of this expensive litigation ever occurred, but they chose not to do that! And that was their choice, however after causing Lane County to incur legal bills totaling $700,000 dollars it is entirely inappropriate now, to let Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy get off the hook with only paying a mere $20,000 dollar fine each, over the next three years! That is not a compromise! That is a surrender! By the way, our County Commissioners are being very generous with our money! It is said that “Nothing is easier than spending the public’s money! It does not appear to belong to any one, and the temptation to spend it…is overwhelming.” That is a quote from Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President! Here is a memo to our three conservative Lane County Commissioners. “We don’t need to fly the white flag now! Sorenson and Handy do! Our side won!” They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar! Did you forget, or are we just going to squander this victory like Republicans always do! What’s the matter with you guys? Aren't you comfortable being winners for a change? You need to learn how to play cards better so that you know when to hold and when to fold, or in this case when to stand and fight, or when to run! This wasn’t the time to run, guys. It was the time to stand fast, and hold on to your principles! Even if Sorenson and Handy didn't have the money to pay the $700,000 dollar legal bills, at least you guys could have negotiated better terms for the taxpayers of Lane County, such as an unequivocal admission of guilt, bigger fines for each of them between $50,000 dollars and $100,000 dollars for their crimes, to deter any future violations, and resignation from office, with an agreement not to run again! Of course, if you guys just want to go along to get along, which it seems that you do..."
A simple calculation of the legal bills for Lane County and for the plaintiffs in this case reveals the following facts: $350,000 dollars, the approximate legal fees for each side in this case, is approximately 1200 hours of legal work at $300 dollars per hour, which is the going rate for trial attorneys in Oregon. (Note: that is for each side, not for both sides)!
1200 hours of trial time is exactly 40 hours per week for 30 weeks OR viewed another way it is 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, every week for 30 consecutive weeks! That adds up to 1200 hours. (I won’t mention the fact that all of an attorney’s time isn’t chargeable at the same rate that trial time is, but we’ll just let that one slide for now.) Billing Lane County for 1200 hours each, of legal time is the same thing as saying that each side’s attorneys spent every working hour, of every working day, of every week, of every month, on this case for over 7 straight months! Actually, to be exact it is 7 1/2 months!
This is a trial over a violation of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law. It is not a murder trial for Pete’s sake! (Literally for Peter Sorenson’s sake)! What a rip off! If you believe that either side’s attorneys actually spent that much time on this case, or even that both sides combined did, then I could probably find somebody in Florida with some useless swampland to sell you, and you would probably buy it too!
But hold on now! This is starting to sound like a good general fleecing of the public! Maybe it doesn’t rise to the level of the Tea Pot Dome Scandal, but nevertheless I feel like I've had my pockets picked, just the same! What about you? It sounds to me like the Lane County Full Employment Act of 2011 for Trial Attorneys! And our newly elected County Board of Commissioners appears to be responsible for it. Well, the honeymoon sure looks like it’s over now! It looks like we’ve just been screwed as well as fleeced! Remember, this was all decided in a private closed-door meeting of the Board of Commissioners without even one member of the public present to offer their consent! Perhaps the word raped would be more appropriate than either fleeced or screwed!
I guess the only one now who can save the tax payers of Lane County from our own County Board of Commissioners, is apparently Judge Michael Gillespie of Coos Bay. If he refuses to accept this settlement, then the taxpayers of Lane County are off the hook for the entire legal bill because the law doesn't require us to pay anything if Sorenson and Handy were found guilty of willfuly violating the law, which they were! Or perhaps former Commissioner Ellie Dumdi and her attorneys would just agree to waive their legal costs, seeing that it is the innocent taxpayers of Lane County who will likely be paying for them, in as much as she supposedly brought her lawsuit, along with Ed Anderson, to benefit the residents of Lane County. But then why would she or her Portland area attorneys want to do that, when they stand to reap a handsome profit of about $275,000 from the unfortunate tax payers of Lane County? I guess we will just have to wait and see, in order to find out what really motivated Mrs. Dumdi, Ed Anderson and their attorneys!
"A journalist has no better friend than the truth." - Scott Rohter