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Bar files formal complaint on DA

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Eric Nisley

The Oregon State Bar filed a formal complaint last month alleging Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley made false statements to the bar. Nisley denied the allegation in a July 10 response and asked that the complaint, filed in the Oregon Supreme Court, be dismissed.

The complaint alleges Nisley “knowingly made a false statement of material fact in connection with a bar disciplinary matter.” It centers on an investigation Nisley began in November 2014 against former Wasco County Finance Director Monica Morris regarding small cash loans she made to an intern.

In May 2015, Wasco County’s legal counsel, Brad Timmons, filed a bar complaint against Nisley regarding that investigation. Timmons claimed Nisley had a conflict of interest in pursuing the investigation, alleging Nisley had made a verbal sexual advance against Morris in 2011, which she rebuffed.

In earlier responses to the bar, Nisley, through his attorney, said the advance was a joke and he apologized for it. In his latest response, he only admits that he was at a conference with her in 2011.

The formal complaint will be heard by a trial panel appointed by the bar. Outcomes of trial panels can range from a finding of no wrongdoing, a public reprimand, a suspension or disbarment. Nisley can also enter into settlement negotiations with the bar.

In earlier responses to the bar, Nisley denied he targeted Morris. Nisley asked the state Department of Justice to investigate the loans. The bar’s formal complaint, filed June 9, alleges in ongoing communications with the DOJ, that Nisley “repeatedly referred to the ‘Morris investigation.’”

The complaint lists six statements Nisley made, through his lawyer, to the bar that the bar contends were knowingly false. In the statements, Nisley said he never saw Morris as the subject of the investigation, and described it as a “general investigation” about the loans.

When the bar decided in December 2016 to pursue the formal complaint, it said Nisley’s responses about who was the actual target of the investigation “appeared inconsistent with his own prior statements.”

In July 2016, an investigator with the state Department of Justice who worked on the investigation of Morris urged the bar to look at Nisley’s communication with DOJ, saying “those communications offer a different perspective than the recent correspondence he has prepared for your office.”

Nisley wrote to the bar late last year, “In hindsight, I can understand how someone would infer that I saw her as a suspect, but I know what was in my mind at that time and it was concern about completing this investigation and determining who was responsible for authorizing the improper loans.”

In his response to the complaint, Nisley said he requested the investigation of Morris after a city councilor told him Morris appeared to have loaned cash to a Wasco County employee. The city councilor told Nisley the county treasurer did not believe it was appropriate. In his response, Nisley said he told the city councilor that he didn’t believe Morris would make the cash transfer without authorization, and that he believed Morris was a stickler for the rules and he didn’t think she would violate the law.

Nisley also cites several statements he made to the Department of Justice, where he said Morris was not the suspect in the matter, and that she had “asked for permission from her supervisor, thereby absolving her of any wrongdoing.”

Nisley’s response also noted that when an outside prosecutor reviewed the matter for him in 2015, that prosecutor concluded the loans were outside normal procedures and not proper, but there was no criminal misconduct because there was no direct evidence to prove the county was aware they were acting without authority.

That outside prosecutor also found it was not useful to pursue prosecution since the loans only totaled $360 and were paid back, and because the county commissioners did not appear to be concerned about it.

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