Is There a Whitewash in the Making?

1. To whiten with whitewash. 2 a: to gloss over or coverup (as vices or crimes) b: to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data 3: to hold (an opponent) scoreless in a game or contest. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

Lars Larsen filed a formal complaint with the State Bar of Oregon alleging that Gov. Ted Kulongoski lied about his knowledge of former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt’s multi-year sexual abuse of a minor child. The case was assigned, not to the bar’s Regulatory Service and Discipline Section but rather to Chris Mullmann, who is identified on the bar’s website as the manager of the Client Assistance Office — a strange choice since Lars was not a client nor was he seeking assistance — he was asking for a disciplinary review. After a review of the affidavit filed by Kulongoski’s chief accuser — Fred Leonhardt — and the response by Kulongoski, and without interviews apparently of either one, Mullmann dismissed the complaint with the stunning conclusion that both parties were equally credible. While that logic escapes me, the result was no surprise.

But Lars is not known for giving up. He protested and apparently has forced the bar to at least interview Leonhardt. But given the substance of that interview, one can easily conclude that this is merely a matter of form and that nothing will change.

First, the matter has still not been assigned to the Regulatory Service and Discipline Section. The interview of Leonhardt has been conducted by Sylvia Stevens who is identified on the bar’s website as General Counsel to the bar. In the corporate world, when the general counsel steps in it is to make sure the “t’s” are crossed and the “i’s” are dotted but the outcome remains unchanged. I suspect the same is true here and Leonhardt’s notes of the interview with Stevens seem to reinforce that.

According to Leonhardt, the credibility of the witnesses did not seem to matter to Stevens, instead she focused on whether there was “material harm.” When Leonhardt pressed that Kulongoski appointed Goldschmidt, an admitted child rapist, to the State Board of Higher Education, he reports that Stevens responded, “What does it matter? Who did it hurt?”

When Leonhardt objected, he recounts that Stevens said that the laws requiring lawyers to report acts of child abuse are directed at “babies and tottlers” and not in cases where a man in his thirties rapes a teenager repeatedly. According to Leonhardt, Stevens said that such actions do not “rise to that level of concern” and that there is no evidence that Goldschmidt ever offended again. How the hell would she know that if she hasn’t investigated? According to criminologists, child molesters are most likely recidivists. Given Goldschmidt’s national and international travel following molestation of the Oregon teenager, there was amble opportunity for him to repeat anonymously, particularly in the Far East where children are sold daily on the street corners of every capitol. Did he repeat? We’ll never know because nobody with authority seems to be willing to investigate.

When I was in law school, our ethics professor was the dean of the law school himself. He pressed hard on the demands of professionalism, the responsibility of lawyers to the public, and the need to avoid not only wrong but also the appearance of wrong. Dean Robert Sullivan would have shuttered at the views of Ms. Stevens.

According to Leonhardt, Stevens concluded by saying that if the bar were to actually proceed with the complaint, Leonhardt would testify to Kulongoski’s wrong doing and Kulongoski would simply deny it and the bar would be left to determine the truth through body language. I don’t know Stevens, I don’t know whether she confines her work to teaching or if she actually tries cases. If she does try cases then she would know first that juries are often asked to determine the truth between contradictory statements. And second, she would know that one is not confined to “body language” but can utilize a whole host of other ancillary information to determine each witness’ propensity for truth.

The trier of fact can consider the motives of the parties providing the contradictory evidence. In this case, despite months of investigations, there is no evidence suggesting an ulterior motive on the part of Fred Leonhardt. In fact, the original sworn testimony of Leonhardt dealt with Sheriff Bernie Guisto and the references to Kulongoski were simply a by-product. Leonhardt and Kulongoski were long time friends and apparently had worked on political campaigns together. In fact, Leonhardt apparently worked on several of Kulongoski’s campaigns including the one for attorney general and his first gubernatorial election.

In contrast, Kulongoski very much has a motive to lie. His license to practice law is at risk. His political life will be virtually over if it is established that he covered up for Oregon’s most notorious child molester. His ability to govern will be severely limited. Yes, I know, he can’t run for governor again but he is currently out actively campaigning for Hillary Clinton and if she is elected he is a likely candidate for a federal appointment.

The trier of fact can also examine the propensity of each witness to tell the truth. In the instance case Fred Leonhardt has provided a sworn statement with a myriad of factual details surrounding his assertions about the conversations between he and Kulongoski about Goldschmidt’s predatory acts. Those details have been known to the public for months now and, to date, they have not been refuted. In many aspects those details have been corroborated by other persons referenced in Leonhardt’s statement. Leonhardt also took and passed a lie detector test and while such tests are not admissible even in an administrative hearing they certainly weigh heavily in the court of public opinion.

In contrast, Kulongoski has stated that his relationship with Leonhardt was de minimus and ended years ago. The Oregonian’s own Steve Duin has detailed the numerous instances in which Kulongoski has lied about the events surrounding these accusations. As Steve Duin noted,

Never mind that various other aspects of Leonhardt’s story have been confirmed by a half dozen witnesses. Kulongoski, meanwhile, has lied about the duration of his friendship with Leonhardt, as I reported in a Nov. 20 column.”

It is exactly those kinds of lies that the State Bar could use to determine Kulongoski’s veracity.

But according to Leonhardt, Stevens is not interest in hearing the many contradictions between Kulongoski’s recollections and the testimony of others. A better course of conduct, given the importance of knowing whether Oregon’s governor participated in a cover-up would be to have a full blown public hearing with all parties being allowed to present the full range of testimony both as to facts and the propensity to tell the truth. And let the chips fall where they may.

Is there a whitewash in the making? Only you can decide.