Next month's primary election will present voters with a rare contested race for a seat on the Oregon Supreme Court.

Van Pounds, a lawyer and state employee, is challenging incumbent Judge Meagan Flynn in the nonpartisan contest.

Pounds, 63, who has not previously served as a judge, says if he's elected to the state's highest court, he'll "perform the duties of judicial office fairly and impartially" and rule "in a manner that demystifies the law."

That could be a change from the way he conducted himself as director of enforcement at the Department of Consumer and Business Services, which regulates securities in Oregon.

A 2015 investigative report, which WW obtained through a public records request, raises questions about whether Pounds possesses skills that would bolster the state's highest court.

"Overwhelmingly, employees do not trust Van and do not feel he is an effective manager," wrote Jay Wayland, a human resources manager for the department, in the May 26, 2015, report. "Employees do not ask Van for direction at this point because they feel Van's response usually lacks clarity and value."

(Raven Pearce)
(Raven Pearce)

Initially at issue in 2015 were allegations that Pounds was discriminating against two female subordinates by requiring them to keep log books of their work and copying him on all emails when male DCBS employees in similar positions were allegedly not required to do so.

Wayland, the HR manager, interviewed eight people in Pounds' group who worked as lawyers, investigators and analysts. His notes from those interviews include scathing assessments.

"I've always had a feeling he doesn't respect women employees," said one employee.

"Everybody in my work unit is credible, except Van," said another employee (DCBS blacked out the names of those interviewed).

A third employee called him "an area of risk for the organization."

"Van burns a heck of a lot of time at [name redacted]'s desk talking about golf at the beginning of the day and the end of the day," said a fourth employee.

Wayland decided that although some employees reported that Pounds appeared not to respect women, there was no evidence he acted in ways that would "unfairly and illegally discriminate" against female employees.

But the investigation's conclusion was bleak.

"Van is generally found to be the least credible person in the unit," Wayland wrote.

(M.O. Stevens)
(M.O. Stevens)

Records show that five months after the investigation, Pounds was transferred from being chief enforcement and securities officer to a policy job in the insurance division. And he was told that job would disappear in 18 months.

"Upon signing this agreement the employee [Pounds] tenders, and DCBS accepts, the employee's irrevocable resignation from his position with DCBS," says an agreement Pounds signed Oct. 14, 2015.

Two weeks prior to the end of his assignment last April, Pounds found a new policy job at a lower salary—$97,000, about $5,000 a year less than he'd been making—back at DCBS. That's where he is today.

Department spokesman Mark Peterson declined to answer questions, saying the report was a personnel matter.

For his part, Pounds says he'd never seen the report of the investigation before WW requested it and none of his superiors ever addressed the report with him.

"It's not accurate at all," Pounds says. "If I was that bad a person, I think my managers would have discussed it with me."

He says DCBS underwent a transformation in 2015, and he attributes his subordinates' criticism to that upheaval.

"There was a lot of discontent," Pounds says. "It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of employees were unhappy and took the opportunity to vent."

Pounds says he was moved to run by Gov. Kate Brown's selection of a slew of new judges last year, including her then-general counsel, without public process.

As WW reported earlier, there are an unusually large number of contested judicial races on the ballot this year ("Running for Robes," WW, March 21, 2018).

Pounds says that's a positive trend, and he's proud to be a part of it.

"The judiciary is virtually invisible in this state," he says. "Most people can't name one Oregon Supreme Court judge. So whether I win or lose, I think we all win."

(M.O. Stevens)
(M.O. Stevens)