Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Ammon Bundy's lawyers deny breaking legal ethics rule with refuge visit

Militant leader Ammon Bundy ended up hiring a Eugene law firm less than three weeks after its lawyers went to the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to offer their services for free. The earlier trip to the refuge has now led to two complaints filed Monday with the Oregon State Bar against the law firm, contending the lawyers violated Oregon State Bar ethics rules. The complaints – one filed anonymously and the other by a Eugene woman – cite a report Friday by Oregon Public Broadcasting, which first raised the ethical questions. The state bar's Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3 says a lawyer shall not solicit professional employment in-person, by phone or through electronic contact "when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain.'' Arnold said his lawyers did nothing inappropriate. They offered their legal advice for free because they felt a duty to potentially help resolve the ongoing conflict at the occupied refuge. "It was fairly obvious that a group holed up at a refuge probably should have an attorney available to answer any questions, particularly since their grievance appeared to be legal – or constitutional – in nature," Arnold said. "We offered to be available by phone over the next couple of weeks to answer any questions for free, assuming we were not otherwise unavailable.'' The state bar's Client Assistance Office attorney will review the two complaints, seek an account of what happened from Arnold's lawyers and determine if possible violations occurred, said Kateri Walsh, a state bar spokeswoman. The bar attorney then will determine if enough evidence exists to ask the bar's Disciplinary Counsel's Office for a formal investigation. Here's what the bar will hear from the firm, Arnold said. He, other lawyers and staff in his office were talking about the occupation of the refuge in early January, he said. They spoke about how it's their duty to take on controversial clients and discussed how they might help defuse the standoff and offer legal advice pro bono, he said. "We saw a conflict – a political protest -- going on in our backyard," Arnold said. "We wanted to be a resource." "Believing that our firm had skills and experience to bring to bear to help resolve this, we contacted ethics counsel to confirm how to appropriately contact them," Arnold said. "Lawyers shouldn't just sit in their offices billing clients 24-7." Their ethics counsel was Portland attorney Peter Jarvis, who specializes in lawyers' professional responsibilities...more

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