December 3rd, 2010 5:33 pm | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Oregon State Bar: Two-Plus Years Later, Probe of High-Profile Lawyer Almost Complete

It's been two years this week since our story about the Oregon State Bar's investigation of Gary Bertoni, a prominent Portland criminal-defense lawyer accused of taking money out of his client trust account.

The bar took nearly seven months to decide there was enough evidence to warrant an investigation. But today—exactly 29 months after the complaint against Bertoni was first filed on July 3, 2008—the bar still hasn't completed that investigation.

Bertoni did not return email and phone messages seeking comment. But experienced lawyers say if the allegations prove true, they would almost certainly lead to Bertoni losing his license to practice law.

Which raises the question: Why has the lawyer-led agency charged with policing its profession taken more than two years to probe one of its high-profile members in such a serious case?

Bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh says the investigation has been "unusually complex" because of the nature of the allegations and drawn-out disputes over access to Bertoni's records.

"It has been an unusually lengthy disciplinary investigation and has frankly extended long beyond the time period in which we try to complete these matters," Walsh says.

The case boils down to a question of accounting—whether Bertoni's financial records back up the allegations. In her bar complaint, Bertoni's longtime office manager, Cynthia Statham, said Bertoni's client trust account was $69,826.80 short when she left the firm in September 2007.

Walsh says that complicated question prompted the bar's disciplinary office to seek outside help. Portland lawyer Daniel Steinberg and his firm have logged hundreds of hours volunteering for the investigation, Walsh says.

Beyond the complexity of the case, Walsh says Steinberg also ran up against disputes with Bertoni over access to his bank and accounting records. That fight has still not been resolved, Walsh says, but Steinberg decided to complete the investigation based on the records he had already obtained.

Walsh says the bar expects Steinberg's report on the case next week. The next step is for the bar's State Professional Responsibility Board to determine whether to prosecute the case based on the evidence.

Walsh says most bar investigations are finished within six months, but adds "we have occasionally seen extremely complex cases go this long in the investigative stage."
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