Home · Articles · News · Cover Story · Barred
August 22nd, 2012 NIGEL JAQUISS | Cover Story
 

Barred

A top Lewis & Clark law student committed a sex crime involving a 13-year-old boy. Now he wants the school to take him back.

lede_munter_3842WW Photo Illustration
JUDGE AND JURY: Lewis & Clark Law School Dean Robert Klonoff (above) must decide whether to re-admit a brilliant student, Aaron L. Munter, who is now a registered sex offender.
Image courtesy of Lewis & Clark
Lewis & Clark Law School Dean Robert Klonoff is in a tough spot these days.

Legal jobs are disappearing across the country, and applications are down—12 percent over the last two years at Portland’s only law school. Klonoff’s mission is to manage a leaner shop, keep the cash rolling in and boost his institution’s ranking. On the latter score, he’s succeeding. Lewis & Clark jumped nine spots this year to No. 58 in U.S. News & World Report’s law-school rankings (the University of Oregon was No. 82; Willamette University No. 129). 

Sometimes Klonoff gets to do cool stuff, like travel the globe giving lectures on class-action litigation, his former specialty.

Other times, his job requires him to weigh moral questions that will change students’ lives, affect his school’s reputation, and might influence who is allowed to practice law in Oregon. 

Earlier this summer, Klonoff, 57, fielded an application for re-admittance to Lewis & Clark Law School from a 39-year-old man who had recently served jail time for sex crimes involving a minor.

The applicant, still on probation, wanted back in to the school to complete the final semester of his law degree. 

Some members of the legal community say Klonoff should reject the request out of hand because the student’s behavior violated the law school’s honor code, which states: “Lewis & Clark Law School is a community of men and women dedicated to the maintenance of high standards of personal conduct and behavior, [including] observance of the highest principles of honesty, integrity and morality.”

Klonoff’s decision—which he says federal student privacy laws prohibit him from discussing—is more complicated.  

For one thing, before committing his crimes, the student excelled at Lewis & Clark, editing the law review and ranking second in his class. 

He’s since kept his marriage intact, paid his debt to society, landed a white-collar job and retained the support of some faculty.

There is also the fact he is a member of a powerful family that has generously supported the college and law school.

Ultimately, the question for Klonoff is this: At what point, if any, can a sex offender who has targeted a child regain a position of trust?

Earlier this summer, the dean reached out to a number of interested parties for help.

“I need to make a decision soon, and want to be sure you had the opportunity, if you wish to take it, to have your thoughts on the matter be a part of my decision-making process,” Klonoff wrote June 3. “As you probably already know, he was an extraordinarily strong law student.”  

The dilemma Klonoff faces is rare but not unique. New York newspapers have written numerous articles about Neal Wiesner, a felon whose drug-related crimes 30 years ago led the New York State Bar to reject him nine times on fitness grounds before admitting him this year. And infamous journalist Stephen Glass, caught fabricating more than 40 articles for national magazines in the 1990s, continues a long battle to gain entrance to the California Bar, which excluded him for integrity reasons. 

Locally, the prosecutor who put the Lewis & Clark law student behind bars is a staunch opponent of his being re-admitted to school or ever practicing law.

Jodie Bureta, 35, has spent her nearly 10-year legal career prosecuting sex crimes in Marion County. 

The deputy district attorney says the 2008 crimes, in which the victim was a 13-year-old boy with autism, started out as one of a stack of cases she handles at any given time.

In his case, she says, the suspect was a highly accomplished professional who’d earned a slew of academic honors and excelled in diverse endeavors before entering law school. 

Even after his arrest, the accused retained the backing of powerful interests who could not reconcile the criminal charges with the man they knew. 

Such denial, Bureta says, is typical.

“People around sex offenders are always shocked when the crime is discovered,” Bureta says. “But I pretty much always find them living double lives.” 


MUNTER
IMAGE: Marion County Records
Located on a hillside near downtown Salem, Corban University is a 77-year old Christian college with an enrollment of 1,250 students. During the summer of 2008, Corban rented space on its campus to a computer camp that taught 74 kids about PowerPoint, simple coding and how to use programs such as GarageBand.

Most of the counselors were teachers and community members. But one of the volunteer counselors stood out. Not just because he possessed an unusual combination of computer skills and management experience, but because he ran the company that sponsored the camps—a nonprofit called the Organization for Educational Technology and Curriculum.

That man, Aaron Leonard Munter, was 34 at the time. A former National Merit Scholar at Aloha High School, he’d graduated with honors from Lewis & Clark College and earned a master’s degree in educational curriculum and instruction at Portland State University. (Munter did not respond to repeated interview requests.)

After he received his bachelor’s and master’s, Munter started a nonprofit organization that drove adolescents on cross-country educational adventures in an RV. He’d also worked as technology development coordinator for Salem-Keizer Public Schools and as the manager of school finance, data and analysis for the Oregon Department of Education. 

“He was very smart and very strategic,” says Ed Dennis, who, as chief of staff to then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo, worked with Munter in 2002 at the Department of Education.

Munter left that job to become executive director of the Organization for Educational Technology and Curriculum, a Sherwood-based nonprofit that buys software and hardware for 900 schools and colleges.

There, say employees who declined to be identified, Munter was known for his sense of humor and grace under the pressure of dealing with hundreds of co-op members and suppliers. 

In 2005, he enrolled at Lewis & Clark Law School. He held onto his day job and took law classes at night. During the summer of 2008, Munter, who is 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, with a shock of brown hair and hazel eyes, volunteered to work at the computer camp his company was underwriting.

Precisely what happened one July day during a break from instruction is protected by privacy laws. Police reports and court records relating to juvenile-involved crimes are confidential. Most of the details available about the incident come from a letter written by Bureta, the prosecutor, that is in the limited, publicly available court file.

In her letter, Bureta says one of the campers, a 13-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder, shared a bedroom in Corban University’s Davidson Hall with another camper. 

During break time, Munter invited the boy into Munter’s room to watch a video he claimed to have “found on one of the laptops a previous student had used while at the camp,” Bureta writes.

“Once in his room, Mr. Munter said he wanted help identifying someone in a particular video. The victim then lay down, alone with Mr. Munter in Mr. Munter’s room, while Mr. Munter played the video. The video showed two young boys, the same general age as the victim, performing oral sex on one another. Mr. Munter asked the victim if he recognized the boys and was told no. Nevertheless, Mr. Munter then played the video a second time and told the victim not to tell anyone.”

The boy later told his mother. A few weeks later, police served a search warrant on Munter’s Aloha home.

NO PITY: “I would be appalled and horrified if I had attended classes and walked across the same graduation stage as a sex offender on probation for victimizing children,” Marion County Deputy District Attorney Jodie Bureta wrote to Klonoff.
IMAGE: Jarod Opperman

 

By the time police obtained a search warrant, Bureta says in a July 11, 2012, letter, Munter knew officers were coming.

“Mr. Munter learned of the police investigation prior to law enforcement contacting him. And when a search warrant was executed at his home, a cord likely belonging to the laptop used to display the child pornography to the victim was located, but that laptop used was not. Instead, a CD titled “backup” was found, and it contained 27 separate videos showing children being sexually abused,” Bureta writes.

“Not only did Mr. Munter commit a crime against an actual known child, but his collection of videos included videos of abuse with titles such as: ‘father and son practicing,’ ‘Man cherishes a 9 yo Boy,’ ‘2 Boys + Mann,’ ‘2 brothers 6 & 13 give each other blowjobs,’ and ‘Keito 12 Yrs With Man And Other Boy.’”

On Sept. 8, 2008, after hiring criminal lawyer Stephen Houze, Munter turned himself into police.

A Marion County indictment 10 days later charged him with two counts of encouraging child sex abuse in the first degree and two counts of luring a minor. Both crimes are felonies.

Because of the evidence seized from his home and the grand jury testimony of the child, Munter faced long odds. 

His best hope was Houze, whose 40-year career has included many high-profile clients, including Terri Horman, the stepmother of missing Portland boy Kyron Horman; auto dealer Scott Thomason; and former Trail Blazers player Damon Stoudamire.

In a motion for bail reduction, Houze sang Munter’s praises.

“He has a 4.05 GPA (on a 4-point scale) and ranks second in his class,” Houze wrote in a Sept. 10, 2008, court filing. “Defendant is the editor-in-chief of the Lewis & Clark Law review and has received numerous awards for his scholarship at that institution.” 

Lewis & Clark law employees submitted letters attesting to Munter’s positive qualities, as did senior staff at Oregon Health & Science University, where Munter’s wife works as an administrator.

On May 21, 2009, without going to trial, however, Munter pleaded guilty to two counts of encouraging child sex abuse and one count of luring a minor. 

He was sentenced to six months in jail, six months in work release and 60 months probation and will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Even though statistics show many national and state crime rates in a decades-long downtrend, some sex-related crimes, such as child pornography, are increasing. Bureta says her caseload and the number of child porn-related cases her office prosecutes is steadily increasing (see chart, page 19).


Bureta says Munter’s sentence might have been more severe, but the number of child-porn videos found on his computer, 27, was relatively modest compared to other busts. 

She disagrees with critics who think prosecutors are cracking down too hard on images of children involved in sexual acts.

“Some people say it’s just a porn addiction,” Bureta says. “That’s wrong. This is a child-abuse problem.”

Munter split his jail time between Marion County, where Corban is located, and Washington County, where police had seized his porn stash.

In 2010, Munter finished serving his time. Many sex criminals leave jail and struggle to fit back into society. But while he was on work release in Washington County, Munter landed a job as chief operating officer at VisualsSpeak, a small branding firm based in Hillsboro. 

Christine Martell, a co-founder of the firm, says her grandfather and father had a policy of giving convicts a second chance. 

“I’ve known [Munter] for a long time,” Martell says. “We were in professional association leadership team together.”

Martell says Munter has tremendous intelligence and skills, and felt she could trust him. 

At the same time, as owners of an image-consulting business, Martell and her business partner, Tom Tiernan, were aware that Munter’s criminal record could create problems for their company.  

They didn’t want prospective customers who Googled the company to discover Munter’s convictions, so they told him to create a blog and Facebook page. If either received traffic, links to those pages would push news stories about his sex-crimes conviction lower in search-engine results. 

Munter blogged about pop culture, mostly movies. 

But his blog landed him in trouble with his probation officer. A condition of his probation said he could not “access the Internet without prior written approval of the p.o. [probation officer] and therapist.”

In February 2011, his probation officer told Bureta about Munter’s online activities. The prosecutor was displeased. 

“[Bureta] would love to violate [Munter’s] probation if he is in violation for this,” wrote his probation officer. 

At Houze’s request, Munter’s employers explained his blogging to the court. 

“Up until very recently, the first page results for anyone doing a search on Aaron’s name would yield articles about his court case,” wrote Tiernan in a Feb. 28, 2011, letter. “As business owners, these are not the kinds of information we would ideally like to see surfacing about someone in our employ.” 

Bureta could not prove any nefarious intent on Munter’s part, so he remained free with tightened restrictions on his Internet access.

SOURCE: Oregon Criminal Justice Commission

 

Earlier this summer, Munter’s application for re-admission to Lewis & Clark Law School reached Klonoff’s desk.

Although the dean declined WW’s interview request, correspondence in the court file includes some of the advice he’s gotten about whether to re-admit Munter.

Marion County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Jamese Rhoades, who sentenced Munter, recommended against re-admission.

“The Court cannot make an affirmative recommendation that Mr. Munter be allowed to complete law school,” Rhoades wrote to Klonoff on July 13. 

“Regardless of Mr. Munter’s academic skills, he should never be allowed to practice law and his possession of a juris doctorate puts him in a position to obtain employment in a variety of law-related fields (including instruction at law schools) that I believe are inconsistent with the principles of the profession.” 

In a 2½-page letter, Bureta, the Marion County prosecutor, also said no.

“We [lawyers] should be held to a high ethical and moral standard that transcends being an ‘extraordinarily strong law student,’” she wrote on July 11 to Klonoff. “The lessons from the Penn State scandal should not be forgotten by institutions making these important decisions.”

As Bureta suggests, colleges’ and universities’ decision-making can be complicated by economic factors. One potential consideration for Klonoff is Munter’s powerful family connections.

Munter’s wife, Dana Director, is a member of the Schnitzer family. Arlene Director Schnitzer, for whom the city’s leading concert hall is named, is a cousin to Dana’s father, Alan Director. Arlene Schnitzer’s late husband, Harold Schnitzer, a leading real-estate owner and philanthropist, was a life trustee of Lewis & Clark College.

Arlene and Harold’s son, Jordan Schnitzer, a 1976 graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, donated a downtown block to the city that in 2009 opened as Director Park, named after his grandparents, Simon and Helen Director.

“Jordan is my cousin,” says Alan Director, Munter’s father-in-law. “We are very close, but I don’t believe he’s been asked to help Aaron.”

Jordan Schnitzer tells WW he didn’t know about Munter’s conviction for child pornography, that he had gone to jail, or that he was seeking to get back into Lewis & Clark Law School.

“I haven’t been involved,” Schnitzer says.


Two professors who specialize in legal ethics disagree on whether Klonoff should allow Munter to re-admit. 

“I think they should allow him to complete his law degree,” says Deborah Rhode, a Stanford law professor. 

She says if Munter has completed his jail term and not re-offended, his application to law school should be considered on his merits as a student. Rhode says she doesn’t think the nature of his crimes is likely to cause a conflict with his studies or much of the work a lawyer does.

“I don’t think image concerns, either for the law school or the legal profession, ought to be determinative,” she says. 

But Stephen Gillers, who teaches legal ethics at the New York University School of Law, says Munter’s maturity, the fact his crimes are recent and that they occurred while he was a law student all work against him. 

“We especially expect law students and lawyers to behave lawfully,” he said via email.

Even if Klonoff were to re-admit Munter, there’s no guarantee Munter could become a lawyer. In order to practice, law school graduates must be admitted by a state bar. In addition to a written bar exam, applicants must also pass a “character and fitness exam.”

“The character and fitness exam is a rigorous review of whether you have the character and fitness to practice law,” says Oregon State Bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh. “Certainly any time there is a criminal conviction in one’s history, the board of bar examiners is going to take a very close look at that.”

Gillers says he doubts Munter could win bar admission.

“His conduct violated his duty to a person in his charge, who was dependent on him as an adult and doubly so because of the autism,” he tells WW. “The analogy to clients and lawyers is inescapable. As a lawyer, clients will be dependent on Munter and therefore in a vulnerable position, as was the victim of his felonies. This will be especially true in criminal cases, but other cases, too.”

The best-known recent Oregon case of a felon gaining bar admittance involved Sean Beers, then a senior executive at Columbia Sportswear, who spent nearly three years in prison on drug charges. 

After Beers graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School in 2002, the bar rejected him because of his drug convictions. But after a three-year battle, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in Beers’ favor, 11 years after he left prison. 

The court’s ruling turned on Beers showing he had reformed. 

“A significant amount of time has passed since the conduct in question,” the court wrote in an Aug. 18, 2005, decision. 

Whether Munter has reformed is unknown. Research is mixed on the risk of those convicted on child pornography charges re-offending. A widely cited 2011 Canadian study found about one-third re-offended within five years. 

Bureta says she is skeptical that many men interested in child porn kick their habits.

“My position is, the definition of recidivism is wrong,” the prosecutor says. “By the time a sex offender is caught, he has often committed 100 crimes.”

So did Klonoff decide whether Munter will be in attendance at Lewis & Clark on Sept. 4, when fall classes begin? 

Klonoff won’t say. Munter and his family are not talking.

“Under federal law,” Klonoff writes in an email to WW, “I am not allowed to discuss whether we’ve re-admitted a former student.” 

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 
 
 

 

comments powered by Disqus
 

Web Design for magazines

Close
Close
Close