Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wasco County District Attorney Suspended For Lying to Investigators

John Rosman
Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley says he will fight an order that he be suspended.

Wasco County’s top prosecutor lied to investigators looking into whether he’d improperly investigated a county official, and should be suspended from practicing law for a month, a trial panel has found.

The panel of Oregon’s Disciplinary Board ruled this month that District Attorney Eric Nisley lied when he claimed he hadn’t made Wasco County’s finance director the subject of an investigation into improper loans.

“The foundation of the lawyer disciplinary system in Oregon is that lawyers will be honest and cooperative during a disciplinary investigation,” the panel wrote in its June 11 ruling. “Nisley’s misrepresentation about the subject of the investigation could damage the public’s perception of lawyers as trustworthy and honest.”

Nisley has vowed to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court. He’ll continue to prosecute cases in Wasco County while that plays out, he told OPB.

The complex case extends back to 2013, when Wasco County Finance Director Monica Morris made two loans to an intern out of the county’s petty cash fund. Nisley learned of the loans in 2014 and believed they were illegal, asking the state to investigate.

The Oregon Department of Justice declined to prosecute in the matter, erroneously finding that the loans were legitimate because the intern was a union member, the trial panel’s ruling said.

When Nisley began looking into the matter personally, other county officials objected. In May 2015, the Wasco County attorney filed a complaint with the Oregon State Bar. He wrote that Nisley’s investigation into the loans was improper, suggesting it was retaliation for a 2011 incident in which Nisley propositioned Morris for sex during a Eugene conference and was rebuffed. Morris later reported the incident to her supervisor. Nisley said the incident was a joke made in “extremely poor taste” and not a serious advance.

Bar investigators ultimately filed charges with the state’s Disciplinary Board, alleging that Nisley’s investigation was retaliatory and that he’d lied about it to investigators in six instances.

In its recent opinion, the trial panel dismissed most of those charges, and found there wasn’t evidence that Nisley’s investigation was improper. The panel said Nisley had testified in a “straight forward, responsible, calm, respectful fashion,” and that “the Bar did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Nisley targeted Morris in retaliation.”

But the panel also found that Nisley wasn’t truthful when he told investigators that Morris was never the subject of a criminal investigation. He admitted to referring to the case as “the Morris investigation,” the ruling said.

“The Trial Panel was baffled that (Nisley) did not admit to the Bar during its investigation that Morris was the subject of the criminal investigation,” the ruling said.

The panel ordered that Nisley be suspended from practicing law for a month, but that he had until November to begin that suspension.

Nisley doesn’t intend to begin it at all.

“I don’t agree with the finding of the panel,” he said Friday. “I intend to appeal that to the Supreme Court.”

In an interview with OPB, Nisley was adamant that he’d never investigated Morris in the matter, but that he still believes the loans to the intern were improper. He also said he was happy with much of the trial panel’s ruling.

“I feel vindicated about this,” Nisley said. “They found me to be truthful and credible.”

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.