Gov. Kate Brown this afternoon announced that her general counsel, Misha Isaak, has declined the seat on the Oregon Court of Appeals to which Brown appointed him on Aug. 30.
Less than two weeks after that appointment, the state's first public records advocate, Ginger McCall, abruptly resigned, citing Isaak's alleged interference with her work. Memos that McCall prepared about her interactions with Isaak suggested that he sought to undercut her aim of making Oregon's government more transparent in order to spare Brown potential embarrassment.
McCall's allegations raised questions about Isaak's suitability for an appellate court position and WW subsequently reported he'd been given that position without having to go through the normal vetting process that other judicial candidates face.
That caused consternation in the legal community. Although many of those with concerns declined to speak on the record, Edwin Peterson, a retired chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, called on Brown to revoke Isaak's appointment.
Today, that's in effect what happened. Isaak disputed McCall's version of events but said he would step aside.
"I have worked hard to earn a professional reputation beyond ethical reproach," Isaak said in a statement. "While I appreciate the trust the Governor put in me by appointing me to the Court of Appeals, I am not willing to accept further damage to my reputation that could arise from joining the bench under the cloud of allegations made by Ms. McCall. I have therefore decided to decline Governor Brown's appointment to the Court of Appeals. I will remain in the Governor's office as General Counsel."
Here's the statement Brown released early this afternoon:
"This morning I received Misha Isaak's letter declining his appointment to the Oregon Court of Appeals," Brown said. "I have come to know Misha for his personal and professional integrity, and he has only reinforced that in making this decision. He is an excellent lawyer and a valued member of my team.
"With respect to questions raised about the appointment of judges, I am working on developing a policy to standardize our process. In the future, the Governor's office will announce any vacancies on the Oregon bench publicly and will clearly communicate the process we will follow in reviewing candidates for any judicial positions."
Brown also said that she will take McCall's criticism to heart and will make the office of the public records advocate and the Public Records Advisory Council more independent.
"There is a need for resolution on the separate but related issues of the Public Records Advocate's resignation and my recent selection of the governor's general counsel for the court of appeals vacancy.
"First, let me say that while there has been misunderstanding in and around both processes, I deeply regret that controversies have been created and acknowledge that I am ultimately accountable.
"I've met personally with Ginger McCall to express my regret at her resignation, and to hear her thoughts on how to reinforce the strength of the public records advocate position and better serve the transparency process," Brown said.
"I see now that the structure of the Advocate position, which I supported, was flawed from the beginning. Given their policy roles, the Advocate and the Public Records Advisory Council could not be truly independent as long as they were overseen by the Governor's office."
Brown, who took office in 2015 after her predecessor, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, resigned amidst an influence peddling scandal that highlighted a lack of transparency in government, has made transparency a focus in her administration. She says Oregonians can expect more in the future.
"I think it is safe to say we can do much better," Brown said. "And the people of Oregon deserve to know that we take their trust seriously."