In June, former Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick took a new job at the Oregon Department of Justice, working as a special assistant attorney general, a position funded by a Michael Bloomberg-backed program at the New York University University School of Law.
The position rankled some people, because of the potential political overtones of the project. Novick's position is one of a number around the country aimed at supporting "state attorneys general in defending and promoting clean energy, climate and environmental laws and policies."
Earlier this year, Senate Minority Leader Jackie Winters (R-Salem) asked the office of the legislative counsel, which provides legal advice to lawmakers on state issues, about the legality Novick's position.
On Sept. 11, in a letter obtained by an online publication called the Washington Free Beacon, Senior Deputy Legislative Counsel Marisa James wrote to Winters that the terms of Novick's employment conflict with the Oregon law prescribing how special assistant attorneys general may be hired.
James said that's because NYU, rather than the state of Oregon, is paying Novick's salary, and because he reports at least in part to the NYU program.
"We conclude that some aspects of Mr. Novick's appointment conflict with the Attorney General's authority to appoint assistants," James wrote in her letter to Winters.
But on Sept. 24, Deputy Attorney General Fred Boss wrote back to the legislative counsel's office saying James was looking at the wrong section of the law. (Disclosure: Boss reports to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who is married to the co-owner of WW, Richard Meeker.)
"If the arrangements regarding Mr. Novick are correctly assessed under ORS 180.140(5), they are clearly lawful," Boss writes. "Mr. Novick's work is expressly under DOJ's direction and control as required by ORS 180.140(5)."
Boss further notes that DOJ has regularly hire special assistants attorney general who receive compensation from private sources "in areas like tobacco enforcement, bond issuance, and complex health care transactions."
"We respectfully submit that ORS 180.140(5) provides ample authority for this special assistant attorney general arrangement," Boss concludes.