(The Center Square) – Critics are casting doubt on a report claiming Gov. Kate Brown’s top lawyer committed no wrongdoing in a controversy that saw the resignation of Oregon’s public records advocate.
The 56-page report concerns accusations by ex-Oregon Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall that Misha Isaak, Brown’s now former chief counsel, informed her that she served at the leisure of the governor and was duty-bound to represent the governor’s political interests.
McCall began working as the state’s first Public Records Advocate in April 2018 and served as an independent third-party tasked with suggesting best practices for how state agencies can better comply with public records laws.
She was also charged with educating public employees on Oregon public records laws and resolving conflicts between the state and public records requesters.
McCall resigned her post in September 2019, writing in a statement that she could no longer serve the state in good conscience following many conversations with Isaak and other members of the governor’s staff.
Isaak departed Brown’s office in March to practice private law and turned down a gubernatorial appointment to the Oregon Court of Appeals in September.
The report, conducted by attorney Brenda K. Baumgart of Stoel Rivers LLP at the request of Brown’s office, found Isaak committed no unethical behavior based on interviews with the governor’s staff and several state officials.
“It cannot be overstated that this was a new relationship to everyone involved, and on top of standing up a new office with a unique structure, Ms. McCall was new to Oregon, and new to state government,” Baumgart wrote. “There undoubtedly is a learning curve that comes with all of this, and what in hindsight seems to have been capable of being chalked up to a matter of typical growing pains, intertwined with some personality or communication difficulties between attorneys trying to navigate uncharted waters, culminated in a way that has harmed all involved.”
Baumgart’s report, released on Christmas Eve, did not include statements from anyone on the 13-member public records advisory council which McCall chaired or any of the state agencies represented on the council.
The report cost Oregon taxpayers about $46,000, according to Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for Brown’s office.
McCall, who now works as an information attorney for FEMA, derided Baumgart’s findings on the grounds they drew from scant research and biased sources.
“Apparently $46k of taxpayer money isn’t enough to cover any interviews with witnesses outside of the governor’s inner circle,” McCall tweeted. “I trust that the people of Oregon will look at who sponsored this “investigation,” as well as the methodology of the investigation, and draw their own conclusions.”
Isaak, meanwhile, expressed relief in light of Baumgart’s findings.
“The events surrounding these allegations were the most painful of my life,” he wrote in a statement to The Oregonian. “After more than a year, I am relieved that my name has been cleared, and that I can put this painful episode behind me.”
Members of the media, including those heading Oregon’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter, have cast doubt on the report.
“I spent my youth shoveling horse s**t for money,” SPJ board member Chas Hundley tweeted about the report. “I got very acquainted with it. Every kind imaginable. The smell of it. How it crumbles when it’s dry, the weight of it on a flat head shovel. How many scoops to fill a wheelbarrow. I’m intimately familiar with horse s**t.
Since McCall’s resignation, Brown promised to make the public records advocate truly independent.
In that time, the state has seen another Public Records Advocate come and go following attorney Becky Chiao’s resignation in September, which also concerned the independence of the office. She was succeeded by her deputy, Todd Albert.
A bill introduced in the state legislature granting more independence to McCall’s former office failed to pass in 2019.
This article was initially published at TheCenterSquare