The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that a District Attorney made four of six alleged false statement in a Bar investigation and imposed a 60-day suspension.
Respondent is the District Attorney (DA) for Wasco County, having served since 1999. In 2014, he initiated an investigation involving potentially unlawful conduct by one or more county officials, including the county’s then-finance manager, Morris. Respondent later was accused by the county’s counsel of violating a conflict of interest rule in connection with that investigation. In responding to an ensuing Bar inquiry, respondent made six statements that the Bar later alleged had been false.
The complex case extends back to 2013, when Wasco County Finance Director Monica Morris made two loans to an intern out of the county’s petty cash fund. Nisley learned of the loans in 2014 and believed they were illegal, asking the state to investigate.
The Oregon Department of Justice declined to prosecute in the matter, erroneously finding that the loans were legitimate because the intern was a union member, the trial panel’s ruling said.
When Nisley began looking into the matter personally, other county officials objected. In May 2015, the Wasco County attorney filed a complaint with the Oregon State Bar. He wrote that Nisley’s investigation into the loans was improper, suggesting it was retaliation for a 2011 incident in which Nisley propositioned Morris for sex during a Eugene conference and was rebuffed. Morris later reported the incident to her supervisor. Nisley said the incident was a joke made in “extremely poor taste” and not a serious advance.
Bar investigators ultimately filed charges with the state’s Disciplinary Board, alleging that Nisley’s investigation was retaliatory and that he’d lied about it to investigators in six instances.
Background of the situation
The first underlying event occurred in 2011 and had involved inappropriate conduct by respondent toward Morris. At that time, respondent was serving as both Wasco County Counsel and DA. While he and Morris were attending a conference, they had gathered with others in the evening in a hotel lounge. Respondent—who was very intoxicated— directly propositioned Morris, and she refused. Respondent passed out shortly thereafter. He was embarrassed about the incident and apologized to Morris not long afterwards, and she accepted his apology.
The Bar proved only false statements during the Bar’s investigation, not underlying misconduct. Notably, though, respondents misconduct involved making multiple
false statements, sent in three responses to an escalating inquiry over an extended period of time. And, although the Bar narrowed its own inquiry in that time—from asking whether respondent had engaged in a retaliatory investigation to asking about the nature of his focus on Morris during the DOJ investigation—respondent essentially repeated the same false responses, demonstrating a continuing obstinance toward the Bar’s inquiry.
In making four false statements during the Bar’s investigation, respondent contravened expectations for lawyer conduct, as well as his obligation to the legal profession to respond truthfully during a disciplinary inquiry.