In the Media

Our attorneys have been involved with many cases that have appeared in the press. Below are excerpts from some of those articles:

Sheriff’s Office considering renting jail space in Wasco County

Benton County Sheriff Scott Jackson has a far out idea to save money on renting jail space from other counties: sending inmates 160-plus miles away to eastern Oregon.

In light of looming budget cuts and the lack of space in the 40-bed Benton County Jail, Jackson is considering a plan to send inmates to Wasco County at a regional jail facility known as NORCOR. The complex, which serves Gilliam, Hood River, Sherman and Wasco counties, has made an initial offer to take Benton County inmates for roughly $70 per bed per day. Currently, Benton County rents an average of 36 beds per day from Lincoln, Yamhill and Linn counties at about $94 per bed per day.

“NORCOR could take pretty much all of our inmates at $70 a day and that would be a significant savings for taxpayers,” Jackson said. “I’ve always thought it was my job to find the most efficient way of doing things. There are a lot of programs I’d like to try, but resources are limited. So I’m looking at some different ways to manage the resources we have.”

Benton County Jail, constructed in 1976 as an add-on to the courthouse, was originally intended as a temporary facility until the completion of a proposed regional jail similar to NORCOR. But that facility was never built.

Voters have rejected bond measures to build a new jail in Benton County in 2000, 2001 and 2015. Instead, voters have supported levies to cover the expense of renting up to 40 jail beds in neighboring counties, at a cost that runs about $1.1 million a year.

Jackson said that even though driving inmates 160-plus miles away to Wasco County would create additional logistics issues ranging from added fuel costs to visitation complications, sending inmates there could still save between $500,000 and $700,000 biannually.

Still, the idea of housing inmates at NORCOR is in the preliminary stages and Jackson said he would want to meet with local defense attorneys and Benton County Circuit Court judges to hear their opinions before taking next steps.

“There are some key people that need to be involved in this before we move forward,” Jackson said. “People need to be comfortable with this. None of us may like it, and we all wish we had a jail that met our needs ourselves, but we don’t have that.”

Jennifer Nash, a Corvallis defense attorney who also served as a court-appointed defense attorney, said the proposal would essentially force local attorneys to build a relationship with their clients over video conferencing.

“You can’t build any kind of attorney/client privilege over video,” Nash said. “In all cases, particularly serious cases, it is critically important to develop a relationship with a client. It takes contact with that client to build that relationship, and you can’t have meaningful contact with someone that far away.”

Nash also anticipated the proposal would create insurmountable problems for court-appointed defense attorneys.

“Court-appointed attorneys get paid a nominal amount of money as it is,” Nash said. “To provide an additional burden to make the defense attorneys travel six hours would be unacceptable.”
Jackson said he planned to schedule a meeting with the Benton County Defense Consortium to address those concerns.

“I don’t want to dismiss that argument because it’s somewhat valid and that’s some of the negotiation we need to hammer out,” Jackson said. “I’m not completely sold they would have to drive there. But you do lose something not seeing that person in real life.”

Nash also said there may be legal precedent that would prevent the county from housing inmates NORCOR. She cited ORS 135.215, which requires a sheriff to detain a defendant “in a jail located in the county of the sheriff or, if there is no sufficient jail in the county, by such means as may be necessary and proper therefor or by confining the defendant in the jail of an adjoining county within or without the state.”

Vance Croney, Benton County counsel, said the NORCOR proposal would meet legal requirements, citing ORS 169.053, which allows counties to enter into agreements with other counties “for the confinement and detention of offenders.”

“Because this is a specific grant of authority to contract with other counties, this is the one we’re leaning on,” Croney said. “I certainly understand the concern. Whether it’s family, legal representatives or friends, they won’t want to travel any further than they have to. From the county’s perspective, it’s about what’s best for the organization and for the inmate. Candidly, it boils down to a budget issue. Can we afford jail beds that are close? Are there beds that are farther away that would cost the sheriff less? That’s a strong consideration.”

Big charges but small conviction of one year for Defendant

Originally held for murder, man sentenced for misdemeanor

A Corvallis man originally charged with murder solicitation was convicted of a misdemeanor this week in Benton County Circuit Court, ending a case that his defense attorney said was grossly overcharged.

The defendant plead no contest Monday to solicitation to commit reckless burning, and was sentenced to a year of probation and jail time already served.

“My client, for the record, maintains that he did not commit this crime,” said Corvallis lawyer Jennifer Nash. The plea offer was made by the prosecution mid-trial, after Nash cross-examined the state’s witnesses. The prosecutor said he perceived the jury didn’t react well to testimony from the main witness in the case.

The defendant was arrested Oct. 2 and accused of offering another man $1,000 to kill his girlfriend by burning a mobile home with her in it.

Based on information obtained during the investigation, he was initially charged with two counts of solicitation of aggravated murder, a crime that has a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.

Man cleared on charges of infant abuse

After 5 hours of deliberation, jury finds Sweet Home man not guilty in choking incident

A jury on Friday found a Sweet Home man not guilty of charges stemming from a choking incident with an Adair Village infant more than a year ago. After five hours of deliberation, a Benton County jury found the defendant, 20, not guilty on all counts. The defendant, dressed in a light-blue button-down shirt and khakis, wiped at his eyes with his shirt-sleeves as the jury left the courtroom.

The defendant was charged with multiple counts of assault and criminal mistreatment. One count of tampering with physical evidence was dismissed before the trial began.

Although the defendant wasn’t the biological father, his attorney, Nicolas Ortiz, stressed in closing arguments that he had assumed the role of a parent with the child. The defendant was alone with the baby and called 911 to report that the child was choking on a napkin. Ortiz described the defendant as being “frantic” after the napkin was in the baby’s throat and said repeated swipes with a finger might have caused some injury, though likely not the tear in the baby’s esophagus. “[The defendant] was acting like someone who was responsible for an injury, that much he was aware of, and hoping [the baby] was all right,” Ortiz told the jury. The actual tear, he suggested, may have come from medical personnel, who placed suction and breathing tubes down the baby’s throat when treating his injuries.

Ex-teacher’s sex abuse trial begins

The sex abuse trial of a Corvallis resident started Monday in Benton County Circuit Court, with the prosecution alleging that, for years, he molested three elementary school-aged sisters and their brother. The defendant faces 13 counts of first degree sexual abuse and one count of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration.

First-degree unlawful sexual penetration is a Measure 11 crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of more than eight years in prison. First-degree sex abuse has a mandatory minimum sentence of more than six years in prison.

The defendant, a former Community College instructor, is related to the youngsters and was in frequent contact with them.

Defense attorney Jennifer Nash said that normal caretaking behavior by Montgomery was misinterpreted as abuse. She added that the children’s statements have changed, and that two of them initially denied that they were abused but changed their stories when they were pressed.

Oregon Man Acquitted of Sexual Abuse

A former community college instructor has been acquitted of sex abuse charges involving four young children. The defendant had faced 13 counts of sex abuse against three girls and a boy, all siblings who knew him. But Benton County Circuit Judge Locke Williams acquitted Montgomery on Friday after five days of trial and the testimony of dozens of witnesses.

Man acquitted of rape charge from 2009 party

A 22-year-old Hillsboro man was acquitted of rape and sex abuse charges Monday after a two-day trial in Corvallis ended with a judge’s verdict. Circuit Judge Locke Williams said that inconsistencies in testimony and a lack of physical evidence led him to find the defendant not guilty of first-degree rape, second-degree sex abuse and third-degree sex abuse.

The defendant was accused of raping a woman he met during a party at a townhouse on May 17, 2009. Witnesses reported that there were more than 100 people at the party. “All of the witnesses were intoxicated,” Williams said. He said the effect of time and alcohol on a person’s memory produced a “number of inconsistencies in the witnesses.” The defendant was represented by Jennifer Nash, who argued that the two had taken part in consensual sex.

Jury acquits man of sex abuse of girls

An Albany man was acquitted of charges that he sexually assaulted two girls in Philomath when they were 7 and 9 years old. The defendant, 31, was released Friday from the Benton County Jail after spending 17 months in jail on charges of first-degree rape and two counts of first-degree sex abuse.

After a week-long trial, a 12-person jury found the defendant not guilty on all three charges. The crimes were alleged to occur in 2004, but they were not reported until 2010. The elder girl involved in the case has an intellectual disability and severe communication deficits. She told her foster mother of the abuse in short phrases and gestures, indicating that the defendant was the person responsible. She was not able to testify verbally, however, due to her level of functioning.

Nicolas Ortiz, who is the defendant’s attorney, said that psychology professor Daniel Reisberg of Reed College, an expert witness for the defense, testified that the younger girl’s combination of general and specific memory was inconsistent with the way memory works.

Commenting on the case, the Deputy District Attorney wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette-Times: “I can say that the jury clearly gave a lot of thought and deliberation to this case … They went out around 4 p.m. on Thursday and did not return with a verdict until around 3 p.m. the next day.”

No prison in distracted driving crash

Couple get probation in fatal wreck that killed Eugene man

A couple who pleaded guilty to various charges in connection with a distracted driving crash that killed a motorcyclist were sentenced to three years’ probation on Friday in Benton County Circuit Court.

The couple has been in jail since Oct. 11 on charges stemming from a Sept. 30 collision that took the life of a 72-year-old Eugene man.

The wreck occurred on Highway 99W north of Monroe. The wife, who had little driving experience and no license, was behind the wheel of the couple’s Ford Windstar van, with her husband in the passenger’s seat and their three children riding with them. According to the account presented in court, she was distracted by her husband, who was photographing his wife with his camera phone as she drove south toward Monroe. She started to drift off the road and then overcorrected, veering into oncoming traffic. The van struck Carroll’s motorcycle, killing him. A third vehicle, with three people inside, swerved off the road to avoid the wreck.

In a plea bargain negotiated with the Benton County District Attorney’s Office, [the wife] pleaded guilty on Friday to a single felony count of criminally negligent homicide. Six misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, related to the other people involved in the crash, were dismissed along with a charge of reckless driving.

Judge Locke Williams called the crash a tragedy caused by “a horrendously stupid act that, unfortunately, in this day and age with cellphones, people do each and every day.” However, citing the defendants’ lack of criminal history, he declined to send them to prison. Instead, he ordered the couple to serve three years’ probation on the felony counts and imposed sentences of 30 to 60 days on the lesser charges, which were satisfied by the time served since their arrest.

“It’s always a difficult balance of just punishment, retribution and what’s appropriate in each individual case,” he said. “There is no good solution in this case.” [The wife] was represented by Nicolas Ortiz.

Defense moves to quash evidence in school bomb plot case

The defense for a former West Albany High School student who is accused of building bombs to blow up his school intends to argue in a May 27 hearing that police interviews of the defendant and all evidence collected from the 17- year-old’s house should be excluded from his June 2 trial. In a motion filed last month requesting the hearing, attorney Jennifer Nash alleged that police conducted illegal search and seizure, performed an illegal stop and failed to read his Miranda rights to her client, as grounds for suppressing virtually all evidence against the defendant.

Nash’s 23-page motion, filed last month, gives insight into her client’s defense. The defendant remains in custody and is being charged as an adult on 19 felony charges — one count of aggravated attempted murder and six counts each of manufacturing a destructive device, possession of a destructive device and possession of a weapon with intent to use it against another person.

West Albany High bomb plotter gets 10 years in OYA custody

The West Albany High School student who was arrested last May after police found homemade bombs under his floorboards was sentenced in juvenile court Monday to 10 years in the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority as part of a plea agreement.

[The youth], 17, admitted to six counts of manufacturing a destructive device and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon in juvenile court. The plea agreement dropped the adult charges that [the youth] faced, including a count of aggravated attempted murder. The charges for manufacturing a destructive device carry a five-year committment to an Oregon Youth correctional facility to be spent consecutively with an additional five-year committment for unlawful use of a weapon. However, it will be up to the Oregon Youth Authority as to how much time [the youth] actually spends housed in a facility before he is released.

Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson said the agreement took into account [the youth’s]’s immaturity and the results of his psychological evaluations. He added that the principals of Albany’s high schools supported the agreement, which will involve [the youth] receiving treatment through the juvenile system.

Benton County Circuit Court Judge Locke Williams commended the prosecution and defense on reaching the plea agreement and Williams said the juvenile system is the best place for [the youth] to get treatment. “I feel this is the best resolution for this case,” he said. “We can all be grateful [the youth] is getting the help he needs.“