Hands Off

Why is Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum ducking the Kitzhaber-Hayes case?


Allegations of wrongdoing, ethical violations and even criminal activity have been piling up for months around Gov. John Kitzhaber and first lady Cylvia Hayes.

The governor has the authority to appoint an independent prosecutor. Kitzhaber has repeatedly said he won't do that in this case, insisting it's not necessary.

That leaves Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the state's top law enforcement official, as the only person who has the authority to investigate. But Rosenblum has so far been AWOL.

She has not opened an investigation, despite having significant resources at her disposal and a mandate under state law to investigate public corruption. (Full disclosure: Rosenblum is married to WW Publisher and co-owner Richard Meeker.)

Rosenblum tells WW she was reluctant to comment about the case. "It's not appropriate since we represent that office," she said.

It's true—the attorney general is the state's lawyer. But Rosenblum doesn't represent the governor on ethical or criminal matters.

It's also true the AG routinely balances dual roles, both as legal advocate for state officials and as an investigator into criminal activity.

Under Oregon law, the state Department of Justice can launch a criminal investigation on its own. State law says the attorney general "shall…investigate allegations of corruption or malfeasance by public officials in Oregon and, where appropriate, coordinate, cooperate and assist in taking legal action."

Rosenblum declined to explain why she hasn't opened an investigation. 

"We do not have an open investigation at this time," says her spokeswoman, Kristina Edmunson. "At this point, we do not have any additional comment."

The prosecution of criminal cases is a power reserved under Oregon law for the state's county district attorneys. (Voting-law violations are an exception.) That means Rosenblum could open an investigation, and—if she finds enough evidence—she could ask a local district attorney to go before a grand jury to seek an indictment.

Previous AGs have often investigated and prosecuted cases involving tax evasion and public corruption. The state Department of Justice, for example, worked with the Marion County DA to bring felony tax evasion charges against anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore in 2009.

Marion County DA Walt Beglau says his office has worked with the state Justice Department on many occasions, but he says no one from the attorney general's office has indicated they want to work on an investigation into Kitzhaber and Hayes.

"There's been nothing forwarded to me," Beglau says.

In other cases, local authorities have asked the state Justice Department to step in. The AG investigated then-Portland Mayor Sam Adams and ex-Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen in recent years. Neither was charged.

Two former AGs, Republican Dave Frohnmayer and Democrat John Kroger, sought broader prosecutorial powers for their office, but district attorneys pushed back.

"I've always believed that the AG ought to have more investigative power, including grand jury and subpoena power and the ability to prosecute official corruption," says Frohnmayer, who was AG from 1981 to 1992. "The Legislature has been reluctant to grant that authority. I fought uphill battles trying to get it.  DAs have been jealous of their authority.”

Rosenblum, however, tells WW she doesn't believe her office needs the broader powers.

Additional stories on Gov. Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes:

Additional stories on Gov. Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes:

Feb. 4, 2015:
 "Yes, Virginia, There is a Scandal": The similarities and differences between Gov. Kitzhaber's scandal and that of disgraced Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.

Jan 30, 2015: Gov. Kitzhaber holds a press conference saying Cylvia Hayes will have no further role in his administration.

Jan. 27, 2015: Hillary Borrud of EO Media Group/Pamplin Media Group revealed Hayes had been paid $118,000 in consulting fees in 2011 and 2012 while working in the governor’s office. WW reported Jan. 28 that this information suggested that Hayes did not report all of her income on her 2012 income tax forms.

Jan. 9, 2015: WW reports the FBI is investigating Cylvia Hayes.

Oct. 8, 2014: First Lady, Inc., WW's cover story on Cylvia Hayes' questionable public and private business dealings. 

Jan. 8, 2014: Cylvia Hayes is cited for using a State Police pass to park her personal car.

WWeek 2015

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