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November 16th, 2005 Nick Budnick | News Stories
 

Bad Blood

How a lawyer once suspected of sexual abuse gets taxpayer money.

     
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GRIFFITH STEINKE HEALY, once one of the state's top death-penalty defense lawyers, has returned to a practice in Oregon where his past includes sexual-misconduct allegations.
Two years ago, when one of the state's top death-penalty lawyers left Oregon for Las Vegas, people thought he'd never come back. Criminal-defense lawyer Griff Healy was under investigation by the Oregon State Bar after being publicly accused of repeatedly raping a former law clerk.

But in April, Healy returned to Newberg, 20 miles southwest of Portland. He's getting paid by the public to represent defendants who can't afford their own attorney, and has billed $11,629 since August.

Moreover, Healy seems about to get the last laugh—both on the lead detective who pursued him for years, and on the man who last prosecuted him, Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis.

In part, this is a story of a feud between a lawyer and a prosecutor. But it's also the story of how a lawyer can practice in Oregon despite a long history of alleged sexual misconduct, including rape and assault.

Standing 5-foot-9 with red hair and glasses, Griffith Steinke Healy was once considered one of the top death-penalty defense lawyers in the state, so it's unsurprising he doesn't see eye to eye with Marquis, one of the country's most prominent death-penalty advocates and a frequent guest on shows such as Nightline and Dateline.

Their animosity dates back to August 2000, when they went up against each other in two different murder cases in Astoria, and Healy was quoted in The Oregonian blasting Marquis about seeking the death penalty for one of Healy's clients.

Two months later, an ex-stripper hired as a law clerk by Healy went to police, claiming that Healy had coerced her into becoming his sex slave in Clatsop County, where Healy also tried cases. She said he used a combination of fear and an offer to give her a higher-paying job. She also said Healy, a former chairman of the national Alzheimer's Association, promised her he would lead a fundraising drive for research into a rare terminal illness suffered by her son.

Over the course of eight months, she says he forced her to have sex with strangers and repeatedly violated her with a pool cue, a Budweiser bottle and his fist.

Police from three jurisdictions and the Oregon Department of Justice began investigating the sordid tale. Witnesses who'd participated in her activities with Healy, however, said the sex seemed consensual; and Healy provided police with documents from his accuser's past that portrayed her as a liar with, as he put it, "emotional and psychological problems."

The clerk "has made allegations against numerous men in the past," Healy wrote to his attorney. "None of these allegations has ever been substantiated in a court of law."

Though the woman had credibility problems, the lead Newberg police detective, Ken Summers, suspected she was telling the truth. That's because in September 1999, another of Healy's former law clerks in his Newberg office had gone to Summers with a similar tale, also accusing Healy of sexual assault, this time in Yamhill County.

The 23-year-old clerk, who was married and a graduate of George Fox University, said Healy, then 50, had groomed her by befriending her, flirting and telling her she would be his partner when she graduated from law school.

Healy's two accusers did not know each other. But their stories were strikingly similar: Each alleged Healy took her to a park alongside the Willamette River and, over her objections, disrobed her and sexually assaulted her with his fingers, making her bleed.

When the 23-year-old clerk confronted Healy in a tape-recorded phone call heard by police, the lawyer admitted touching her after she told him to stop.

Contacted by WW, Healy noted that the law student's case was fully investigated, and it didn't go anywhere. Was that a denial? "Yes," he says. He did not respond to further requests for comment.

In April 2000, a grand jury declined to indict Healy on the law-school student's charges. Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry wrote, the "conduct here, although reprehensible as presented by [the clerk], would be insufficient for successful prosecution." Summers, who was not allowed by Berry to testify, told WW the fact that Healy wasn't indicted was "a serious miscarriage of justice."

As part of his probe into the Clatsop County case, Summers also contacted Healy's ex-wife in Michigan. She told the cop that in the mid-80s, Healy was shown the door from his old law firm in Salem for drilling a peep-hole from his office into the women's shower room of an exercise facility next door. The story was confirmed to WW by another source.

But in the end, just as Berry had done, Clatsop County's Marquis concluded that Healy's provable conduct with Healy's other accuser fell into a gray area between sexual abuse and workplace sexual exploitation.

Citing a lack of eyewitnesses confirming the alleged abuse in the Clatsop County case, Marquis declined to prosecute for rape or sodomy. Instead, Healy pleaded guilty in a negotiated pre-indictment deal to two misdemeanors: public indecency and private indecency. In June 2002 he was sentenced to 80 hours of community service. He performed the commmunity service in Las Vegas, where he'd moved.

Marquis forwarded the investigation to the Oregon State Bar, which issued Healy a 60-day suspension in 2003 as its discipline. Should he have been disbarred? "I don't think it would have been inappropriate," says Marquis.

A misdemeanor does not lead to automatic disbarment, which allowed Healy to resume practicing law in Oregon. But because the bar does not need a conviction to discipline a lawyer, and uses a far lower burden of proof than in a criminal case, it could have investigated further, potentially leading to a stiffer penalty.

The bar report on the case shows the bar did not do its own investigation. Its discipline considered only his misdemeanor conviction—not the other allegations.

There's also nothing to prevent him from being a public defender. Anyone who is a member of the bar in good standing and meets other qualifications can get state money to be a court-appointed defense lawyer, according to the state Office of Public Defense Services. But the state does not pay Healy directly—it contracts with a consortium of Yamhill County defense lawyers who have included Healy. Bob Suchy, who heads the consortium, did not return calls.

Marquis thought the move to Vegas meant that Healy was gone for good—until three months ago. That's when he read an article in the McMinnville News-Register in which Healy, back in Newberg and representing a drug defendant, was quoted accusing a drug informant of entrapment. So Marquis sent the bar a complaint accusing Healy of violating the bar rule on making pretrial comments that might prejudice a jury. Healy denied it, and accused Marquis of using the bar to "advance a personal agenda against another attorney."

Says Marquis, "I'm no more biased against him than I am the thousands of other people I've convicted over the years."

Meanwhile, in a final twist of fate, Marquis may wind up back in court with Healy—only on the same side. That's because Healy's former client Patrick Lee Harned, who was convicted of murder by Marquis in 2000, could appeal his conviction, claiming Healy's caliber of lawyering was hurt by sex addiction.

If that happens, Marquis, by virtue of having been the prosecutor in some of those cases, could be asked to attest to Healy's competency in court. Says Marquis, "I could wind up defending him."

 
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