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March 24th, 2004 The Nose | The Nose
 

The lawyer who aims to please.

     
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STEVE JANIK
IMAGE: BASIL CHILDERS
When the Nose was courtin', his mamma use to say, "Be careful of girls who can't say 'no.'"

Last time the Nose checked, there were 12,075 members of the Oregon State Bar, including 12,032 who were not Steve Janik or employees of his law firm, Ball Janik.

But when it comes to complex deals, the City of Portland and the State of Oregon can't resist calling Ball Janik's number--even when that call complicates their deals a whole lot.

Last year, WW looked into Janik's habit of representing both Portland and those who do business with it ("This Gun for Hire," WW, April 9, 2003). The state bar was concerned enough to take the unusual step of initiating a complaint against him. The investigation into that complaint is ongoing.

Fast forward to today. Out in Wilsonville--the local equivalent of Florida in the 1920s, with all the fast-buck artists streaming in--it seems that Ball Janik is holding a client reunion at a proposed housing development called "Villebois."

As The Oregonian reported recently, Janik's firm represents Oregon in its effort to sell the 190-acre Dammasch mental hospital site to Villebois developer Rudy Kadlub.

The deal has bogged down, in part because Kadlub ran out of dough after his main backer, pension-fund manager Jeff Grayson, went belly-up a couple of years ago.

Despite Grayson's notoriety, the state was unaware that Kadlub didn't have a tub to pee in. Ball Janik, having represented Kadlub, might have known his financial condition. (It turns out that Ball Janik represented three of the four developers considered for the job.) In fact, Kadlub told The Oregonian that he assumed Janik would inform the state. No way, Janik told the O; that would have been unethical.

Penniless, Kadlub sought financing. The partners he found didn't impress the state's financial advisor, who called the entity that is supposed to pay the state $15.8 million for Dammasch an "empty shell." The name of one of Kadlub's new partners in Villebois--Frank Piacentini--was familiar to the Nose.

A dentist-turned-developer, Piacentini earned notoriety in the late '90s with "The Capes," a high-end waterfront project in Tillamook County built on an unstable dune that threatened to slide into the Pacific.

Piacentini's partner--and lawyer in the venture--was none other than Steve Janik.

So there you have Villebois: Janik's firm helps the state sell some primo land to a financially shaky former client financed by another former client.

Now, the Nose isn't accusing Janik of favoring his former clients--either of them. What's more, a spokesman for the AG says that the state is very happy with Ball Janik's work and that the firm obtained conflict-of-interest waivers from both Kadlub and the state. And, as Janik notes, there was no requirement that he remind the state of his previous dealings with Piacentini.

OK, let's say nobody broke any rules. You still can't blame the taxpayers of this state--the people who actually own Dammasch Hospital--for wondering whether they're getting impartial legal advice. That's because state officials, who seem to have learned much of what they know about Kadlub from their morning paper, are too lazy to pick up a bar directory. And because Steve Janik, like some of the girls the Nose knew in high school, just can't say "no."

 
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