Wasco County’s legal counsel Brad Timmons alleges District Attorney Eric Nisley told two “falsehoods” in his response to a bar complaint against him.
Nisley, through his attorney, Peter Jarvis, responded Aug. 5 to Timmons’ May 20 complaint to the Oregon State Bar.
Timmons, in turn, replied Aug. 19 to Nisley’s response. Timmons alleged in his May complaint that Nisley showed an autopsy photo to a woman in a bar, saying the woman was appalled.
Jarvis’ response said the autopsy photo — which he said depicted the thorax of a man who died in a fire — was shown “to a personal friend at her insistence. Mr. Nisley did not display the photograph publically in a bar or elsewhere.” Timmons responded, “Regarding the autopsy photograph, Mr. Nisley, through his attorney, Mr. Jarvis, states an outright falsehood to the Oregon State bar during the course of an ethics investigation.”
Timmons provided to the bar the name and phone number of a woman who said she was shown the autopsy photo by Nisley, but “did not, in any way, insist on viewing the photograph,” he wrote.
Timmons alleged the woman was “appalled and insulted when Mr. Nisley displayed the photograph of the corpse (not only ‘a piece of the thorax’) in a bar.”
It is unclear if Nisley and Timmons are referring to the same woman. Nisley did not name his friend in his response.
The woman Timmons referred to spoke to the Chronicle in May for a story on the bar complaint, but asked that her name not be disclosed in print or to Nisley.
The woman initially listed a specific date that she was shown the photo, but Nisley said he was out of town that day. She then recounted a different date, and Nisley said he was out of town that day also and said witnesses could place where he was. The woman said she had witnesses who would place him at the bar that day.
Timmons alleged Nisley’s response was a violation of the rules of professional conduct requiring “candor” toward the bar “because it is false.” Asked to comment on Timmons’ latest letter, Nisley said only, “Same story. Different day.”
Much of the bar complaint centers around an investigation Nisley started last winter of some cash advances approved by a county employee.
Timmons alleged Nisley was showing a conflict of interest and acting in a retaliatory fashion in launching the investigation because the county employee had rebuffed a sexual advance from Nisley in 2011.
The county employee said Nisley asked her to have sex during a conference in Eugene. She immediately and emphatically declined.
He said his comment was a “bad joke” for which he apologized.
Nisley said in his response that the woman wasn’t the focus of his investigation. Timmons said this was a “categorical falsehood.” “The Oregon Department of Justice will contradict this, without reservation…” he said.
Timmons cited correspondence from the DOJ, in which officials stated that they were asked by Nisley to investigate two financial transactions involving the woman.
The DOJ made “routine reference,” Timmons said, to the fact that it was investigating the woman specifically.
Timmons said Jarvis’ response on behalf of Nisley “plainly attempts to distract from the overt sexual harassment and retaliation by Mr. Nisley of” the woman by alleging she did not know about Timmons’ bar complaint. Jarvis contended it appeared the basis of the complaint was no more than rumor.
Timmons said the woman provided a declaration used in the complaint that “expressly dispels Mr. Jarvis’ concerns.” He said the woman “did indeed review my complaint prior to its submission.”
Jarvis and Timmons also disagreed over the parameters of a district attorney’s dual role as a prosecutor while also serving as a county’s lawyer. Nisley was the county’s lawyer for many years.
Timmons said state law requires a prosecutor to serve as county counsel if asked.
Timmons alleged Nisley acted contrary to the county’s interests several times, including when the district attorney said one of his employees might have to pursue a claim with the state because the county denied her a retroactive pay hike —without a county policy in place to justify it, Nisley alleged — when her job classification changed.
Jarvis argued in Nisley’s response that, “recommending a raise for a colleague is not ethically prohibited behavior.”
Nisley also ruled last December that a man who sought public records from the county was entitled to get them for free, rather than the $1,200 fee the county sought, because the records were in the public interest.
The records were of campaign-related emails of County Commissioner Rod Runyon, who defeated Nisley’s wife in the election for commissioner in 2014.
In his response, Jarvis argued Nisley’s actions were not a conflict of interest because his ruling came after the campaign ended.
Timmons argued in his letter, that “Mr. Jarvis’ response ignores the central conflict of interest regarding the public records request.
“Specifically, Mr. Nisley’s off-topic expression of his opinion regarding his client’s [Wasco County’s] purported violation of public meetings law remains of principal concern.”