Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto's pick for a new key post in the county's jails faces ethical questions after intervening in a court case involving her brother-in-law.

The question of personal intervention by law enforcement isn't a new one for the sheriff's office, given that Giusto himself helped arrange an alcohol intervention and denied a handgun-license application for businessman Jim Jeddeloh, whose ex-wife is a close friend of Giusto. The state Department of Justice found earlier this year that Giusto's actions were unusual but fell within the legal scope of his job.

Giusto appointed Susan Lambert-Gates, a deputy with 21 years experience, to the new position of jail detective late last year. The move followed a highly critical report by the county district attorney's office that said the sheriff wasn't sending them enough cases of assaults and other crimes committed by prisoners.

WW has learned Lambert-Gates arrested a witness who was going to testify against her brother-in-law in 2005 as the witness was headed into the courtroom. While neither the sheriff's office nor the district attorney pursued the matter, the incident raises questions about whether she improperly used her sworn position to try to help a close relative.

"If it wasn't her brother-in-law and she was on duty and just happened to recognize an offender with an outstanding warrant, she should be getting a commendation for outstanding police work," says William Gaut, a Florida-based legal consultant with more than 25 years of law-enforcement experience. "But this gives the appearance of acting in a manner contrary to the justice system..., of using the color of office to influence the outcome of a trial."

Lambert-Gates says she was compelled to make an arrest after receiving a tip about the warrant. (She declined to disclose the source.)

"I don't see [a conflict] at all," she says. "I've arrested family members in the past."

The arrest came on April 26, 2005, when Gregory Dee Smith was scheduled to testify on behalf of his landlord in an eviction case. One of those being evicted from the Northeast Portland home was Jon Gates, Deputy Lambert-Gates' brother-in-law. Smith's housemates knew Smith had an outstanding warrant, which led to his arrest before he could enter pro tem Circuit Judge Terry Hannon's courtroom.

"I knew they would try something like this, because they didn't want me to testify," Smith said in court. The judge let Smith testify before being hauled off on the warrant, which was for a probation violation in a DUII case.

Susan Lambert-Gates now says that Smith would never have been prevented from testifying.

The landlord won the case and won $5,000 to cover his attorney's fees. In his written ruling, the judge wrote that he considered Smith's arrest a retaliatory act on the part of the ousted tenants.

Bills provided by the landlord, Casey Moreland, say his attorney, Dudley Gaouette, had conversations about Lambert-Gates' actions with the county district attorney's office and sheriff's internal affairs unit two days after Smith's arrest.

The sheriff's office decided against a formal investigation into Lambert-Gates' actions: They "were not outside the agency policy, as she had a duty to act once an arrest warrant was discovered," according to an internal affairs file.