EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) -- Lane County commissioner Rob Handy is back under investigation, facing new accusations that he may have violated Oregon ethics law.
The allegations stem from a recent incident that happened in the context of a lawsuit settlement against the commissioner in 2011.
Former Lane County commissioner Eli Dumdi originally sued commissioner Handy and fellow commissioners Pete Sorenson and Bill Fleenor in 2010, accusing the three commissioners of violating public meeting laws. The commissioners allegedly held a private meeting in May 2009.
Eventually, the county settled the case. Sorenson and Handy were each ordered to pay $20,000 to help cover Lane County’s legal costs.
Handy’s repayment of those legal costs is where this new allegation comes in to play.
Commissioner Handy allegedly asked others to help pay off his share of the debt. An investigation is happening now into whether or not that is legal.
The accusation came to light on Thursday, May 3rd, 2012, after Lane County’s Board of Commissioners voted to release a public document outlining several allegations against Handy.
The allegations stem from a letter Handy wrote to John H. Brown, a Eugene-Springfield area real estate broker and EWEB commissioner.
In the letter, Handy requested a donation of $3,000 dollars to help him pay his quote, “debt to Lane County incurred in public service.”
Brown recently turned the letter over to a Eugene attorney, Alan Thayer.
Thayer sent a copy of the letter and allegations to Lane County legal council and the Oregon Ethics Commission.
Brown’s attorney says Handy may have violated state ethics law by using his public office for financial gain, in the case of paying his legal debt.
Brown also alleges that soliciting a gift of more than $50 is another violation.
The case has now been forwarded to the Oregon Department of Justice. Lane County’s chief legal counsel Stephen Dingle says the county has yet to be contacted by the DOJ, but says it will fully cooperate with an investigation.
Handy is firing back against the allegations. He addressed the media in a press conference on Thursday, May 3rd, 2012.
“The allegations are false, I will be exonerated and it will happen after the election,” says Handy.
Handy said Thursday he believes the allegations are politically motivated, likening them to a “Karl Rove / Newt Gingrich Swiftboat Tactic,” or political attack.
The term “Swiftboat Tactic” comes from the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign when the group “Swift Vets and P.O.W.’s For Truth,” ran campaign advertisements about Democratic candidate John Kerry, questioning his service in Vietnam.
Handy is running for re-election on the May 2012 ballot. Handy is facing Eugene City Councilor Pat Farr in the election.
“The person making allegations against me (John H. Brown) this moment, of an event that happened months ago, is a large contributor to Mr. Farr's campaign,” said Handy.
“I believe the voters and the people will see this for the political move it is by a Patt Farr supporter, to help his fellow conservative get in to office,” said Handy in a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
“It happened months ago, if this was truly a concern of Mr. Brown's he would have brought that forward… that complaint forward at that time,” said Handy.
Handy says he began informing other citizens about their ability to join in the repayment process after he discovered someone put a payment down for him, without solicitation.
“I found out earlier this year that a constituent who thought the fact that I had to repay Lane County any money related to the Dumdi lawsuit was unfair and had gone down to Lane County and paid some money against this debt,” said Handy.
“I was told by the finance department that this was true, and that people could pay directly to this debt either publicly or anonymously,” said Handy.
Since April 24th, 2012, Handy has re-payed $6,500 of his $20,000 debt.
Three other citizens have contributed $3,020 towards re-payment.
Handy says he only wrote Brown after speaking with him.
“He indicated to me that he would donated to my campaign or to this debt in some way. I mistakenly thought he was a supporter of mine,” said Handy on Thursday.
Brown’s attorney Alan Thayer provided NewsSource 16 with a statement on the matter on Thursday:
“John Brown believes this matter should be investigated and is cooperating fully with the DOJ. He resents having been asked to do something which *may* be unethical and refused to do so. He reported these events to protect himself and the public.”
NewsSource 16 was unable to reach Pat Farr for comment on Thursday afternoon.
So far, the case is not in court. No civil lawsuit has been filed and no criminal charges have been filed.