Oregon Bar Walks Back Bogus Ethics Charges Over Bundy Lawyers

I love Oregon. I grew up in Bend, went to college in Eugene, and go back to spend time in and on Oregon’s mountains, beaches, and forests every chance I get. It is – in my perhaps-biased-but-well-traveled opinion, the loveliest of our lovely United States of America.

But the state isn’t immune to a case of the crazies, as witnessed most recently by the anti-government wacko takeover of federal buildings in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. One side note of that story was a bit of craziness of interest to this blog: the inexplicable decision of the Oregon State Bar to investigate the lawyers for anti-government nutbag Ammon Bundy for attorney advertising violations.

The “ethics crime” complained of? That the lawyers, in advance of being hired, hand-delivered a letter to him offering to meet with Bundy and potentially represent him on a pro bono basis – and that doing so violated RPC 7.3, which limits certain forms of direct solicitation.

My beef with this isn’t that people shouldn’t complain. Any wingnut can file a bar complaint, and the disciplinary authorities should maintain an attitude of openness to receiving these complaints. However, the flip side of that openness is that the Bar should be quick to shut down meritless complaints. This one was dead on arrival – there’s no question that attorneys are well within their rights to solicit business in writing – yet the Bar apparently took it seriously, putting the lawyers through their paces before deciding, months later, that yeah, there’s no violation here.

Gee, thanks,  guys. Pursuing investigations, making the targets have to lawyer up and take the time to explain to the Bar why there has obviously not been a violation, is a horrible waste of everybody’s time and resources (including that of the disciplinary authorities, who could be going after stuff that actually matters).

Even worse, it makes attorneys second-guess whether they can communicate with the public about their services. Many a lawyer doesn’t remotely want to have to deal with responding to a bar complaint, no matter how off-base it is.  Every case of Bar overreach like this – where instead of sending the lawyer a cc letter dismissing the complaint the Bar sends an accusatory screed demanding explanations for alleged wrongdoing – makes it that much harder for the public to get access to information about legal services.

How is that serving the Oregon State Bar’s mission?