By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

DA dismisses dental practice charges

All charges filed against Linda Hixson and Sherry McMullen, accused last summer of misappropriating money from the practice of McMinnville dentist Dr. James B. Nelson, have been dismissed by the Yamhill County District Attorney’s Office.

They each faced four counts of first-degree theft, a Class C felony. McMinnville police said the case began with a complaint from Nelson’s wife, Wendy Nelson-Baca, who accused the two of fraud and theft.

In its dismissal notice, the District Attorney’s Office told the court that decisions made on pre-trial motions had left the prosecution without sufficient evidence to proceed.

Hixson and McMullen each worked more than 20 years, Hixson as a bookkeeper and McMullen as a hygienist. Hixson left the practice in June 2013 and McMullen followed in June 2014.

The state Employment Department notified the Nelsons their unemployment insurance rate would be going up due to excessive layoffs at the practice. When they looked into it, the Nelsons told detectives, they discovered Hixson and McMullen had claimed thousands in allegedly fraudulent unemployment benefits.

The office maintained a business credit card to cover ongoing expenses. The balance was paid in full each month from an office checking account, according to Nelson’s wife.

She said Hixson handled accounts payable, accounts receivable and office mail. The bookkeeping software was password-protected, she said, and besides she and her husband, only Hixson had access.

The Nelsons alleged the two regularly inflated the number of hours they worked and the number of vacation hours they accrued. They said Hixson and McMullen added hours to their timesheets by hand originally, then began entering them into the office computer system, after the office switched to an electronic tracking system.

Nelson’s wife produced several examples of computerized timesheets where Hixson had allegedly altered her own timesheet after the fact, to her personal benefit.

Hixson told Detective Bill Christensen she had no bookkeeping certification or training. She said she learned on the job.

She said she left the practice because Nelson-Baca was causing trouble. She described Nelson-Baca as an “evil person.”

Hixson said all the corrections she made to her timesheets had been approved by Nelson-Baca. She said Nelson had agreed the business would provide them with medical coverage at its expense. She denied ever appropriating any money to which she wasn’t entitled.

Hixson said she had filed 20 to 30 unemployment claims over the years, when work was slow. She said she had not actually been laid off during those times, and the practice remained open, but she had suffered a cut in hours.



i think I see a lawsuit in Ms Nelson-Baca's future......pretty sure there are two people that want their reputation repaired!!


The News-Register owes an apology to Linda Hixson and Sherry McMullen regarding the recent article DISMISSING the charges brought against Linda and Sherry. How is it the first two paragraphs state all charges have been dropped, while the following eleven paragraphs go on to describe the charges filed against Linda and Sherry by Wendy Nelson-Baca, all now deemed to be baseless. Shame on you News-Register.


I agree...a rehash of the original article is a pretty weak effort when all charges have been dropped.....not sure unproven accusations should amount to "news" in the first place.


We have a followup in the works that will incorporate the defendants' perspective and hopefully more fully explain where the case went off the tracks.

I agree that we had more background than was warranted in this account, given the very cryptic dismissal explanation from the DA's Office. Will see what we can do to rectify.

However, I can't support waiting until charge are irrevocably proven to run a story. If we did that on a routine basis, you wouldn't be learning of routine crimes for many months and might not learn about a homicide case for two or three years -- or 20 if you wanted to wait until the appeal process fully played out so you could be certain of no retrial.

Not workable.

Steve Bagwell, Managing Editor


A trusted employee for nearly two decades until the doctors' new wife gets involved....


I wonder.


Steve, I understand your point regarding major crimes, but this story seemed to have some credibility issues from the start. I appreciate the fact that you are following up with an article that sets the record straight, but as you well know, the damage to the accused is already done,and you can't un ring the bell. This is where reporters need to use their judgement before going to press with a laundry list of weak accusations. I'm still not convinced that issues about vacation time or unemployment benefits warrant the coverage they received( including photos) without some further investigation of the facts.


I believe the "decisions made on pre-trial motions," leaving the prosecution "without sufficient evidence to proceed" will be key factors in the dismissal of this case.



I'm afraid we have no means to determine in advance what charges are dead on and what charges may be weak, flimsy or suspect.

For that matter, I'm still not sure whether the charges here were without adequate foundation or other issues led the DA's Office to decide to discontinue prosecution. As Lulu suggests, the judge may simply have upheld a motion excluding key evidence, leaving the prosecution without realistic hope of prevailing.

We plan to pursue the story further and attempt to portray it in a fuller light. In the course of that, we will give the defendants a chance to tell their side, providing additional balance.

The charges were brought in a court of law, and that bell will never be unrung. That was someone else's decision, not ours.

Even at this stage, we are in no possition to second-guess that decision on our own. We lack both access to the raw evidentiary detail and the specialized expertise legal scholars and forensic audtors bring to examining that sort of thing.



Seems to me like the New wife, is the issue here. New wife get's involved in the business and all of the sudden there are all these issues? Perhaps Dr. Nelson needs to get himself a spine transplant.


When a district attorney's office files charges in a case of this nature, I consider that news. As the details emerged, the News-Register reported them, which is the newspaper's responsibility to its readers and the community at large. I applaud the efforts of the News-Register's staff and editors.

Unfortunately, when one lives in a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else, the definition of "newsworthy" can take on decidedly restrictive meanings when coverage involves one's friends. It is not the purpose of any news organization to edit its coverage on the whims of its readers.




So trafik...I wonder if you would feel the same if it were you or your family that had been falsely accused?....


You wield the term "falsely accused" either with little concern for accuracy or you have inside information to which I have no access, tagup.

I do not know if Hixson and McMullen are innocent or guilty or somewhere in between but the statement from the district attorney's office seems to be less "they're not guilty" than "a judge suppressed our evidence" sort of thing. Either way, the News-Register reported the case as it developed and, just because certain readers don't like the coverage, doesn't mean the newspaper failed in its duties or mean-spiritedly libeled a pair of upstanding local citizens.

Surely you can see that. Or maybe not.


Thank you....your statement is a perfect example....

At this point(after charges are dismissed) there is nothing these two people can do to get their good names back because as you illustrated, people will always have doubt.....Do you think the DA ever says things to cover their behind?

I do not feel that the coverage was mean-spirited or that the newpaper failed in their duties...I do think that the coverage was premature and little consideration seemed to be given to the credibility of the claims or the bias of the accuser.

My concern is that news stories carry weight and people develop opinions by what they read. I would hope that some due diligence be given to maintain the "innocent until proven guilty" philosophy.....


When a district attorney levels felony charges against a pair of local [office, bank, dental practice, insert preference here] staffers, those charges are a matter of public record and absolutely newsworthy. The News-Register presumably relies on the same sources as any other news organization as stories develop: police agencies, district attorneys, courts, et al.

If Hixson and McMullen were "falsely accused" and are truly innocent, the blame lies with the district attorney's office. The outrage expressed in this forum might be better directed in that direction than at the newspaper. To fault the newspaper for doing its job displays a fundamental misunderstanding of media.


On reflection, I wish to clarify my previous remarks.

If Hixson and McMullen are indeed innocent, I do not envy them their tasks of rebuilding their reputations. It will be a long process which will never fully be fixed. That said, our district attorney runs a methodical office which doesn't generally file charges against innocent citizens without compelling evidence.

Either way, my issue here is not with the guilt or innocence of Hixson and McMullen but with the vitriol expressed against the News-Register for doing its job. When felony charges are filed against local citizens, it's news regardless of whether the defendants are habitual criminals, undocumented immigrants or even middle-aged middle-class white women.


Maybe felony convictions should be the news rather than initial charges...just a thought....


Police: Undocumented immigrant stabs Linfield student
News-Register: "We can't report this until a conviction is secured."


District attorney: Toddler's meth ingestion leads to charges
News-Register: "We can't report this until a conviction is secured."

Yes, I see that working very well.


Thank you Trafik for being a voice of reason in this discussion.



Completely unworkable.

At a minimum, it takes several months for a felony case to work its way from arrest to conviction. And in the case of particularly serious or complex felony cases, or felony cases involving powerful people with high-paid attorneys, it often takes two or three years to conclude prosecution.

It is inconceivable to me that we would withhold the identity of a person arrested in a high-profile felony case for several months, let alone several years.

If we tried, believe me, tons of other media and social media outlets would fill the void — The Oregonian, the four Portland TV stations, the Newberg Graphic, The Associated Press, Oregon Public Broadcasting, KLYC Radio, Yamco Watch, Facebook, Twitter. Our readers would be learning the name and background of the accused, and the police theory of the crime, from everyone but us.

In practice, things just don't work that way. A felony arrest is big news. It will be widely reported, regardless of any decision we might make down here. The flow of information simply cannot be repressed in a free society, and I'm comfortable with that, warts and all.



Steve, you make a good point regarding class A felonies,( as trafik describes),.... Murder, child abuse and drug crimes are clearly newsworthy for all the major media players.
But would you really describe a class c case such as this, a "high profile" felony?....
These two defendants were accused, put on public display, then charges are dropped.....It just seems like they got a raw deal, and I,m glad you will follow up with them and give them a chance to clear their name.....I think that is the fair thing to do....

Thanks for the conversation , I appreciate your input!


Not to beat a dead horse but when Patricia Warren was fatally struck by Jordan Christie as she legally crossed a street in her electric scooter, it was news. I do not know the end result of that case but I seriously doubt it resulted in any serious charges, certainly not a felony (even class C).

A lot of people rushed to defend Christie, which was understandable, especially when I made mildly insensitive remarks in this forum about the (lack of) skill demonstrated by local drivers. But the story was news. I understand the desire to protect people we like from reporting which may damage their reputations. But when a district attorney files felony-level charges against local folks, like it or not, it's absolutely news.


How anyone feels about a person has no bearing as far as I'm concerned...It's purely a fairness far as Mr Christie's case, I would think most people saw that as an accident.... his character/honesty was not called into question....


Honestly, "people we like" was less for you, tagup, than the indignant Megan (scroll far up) and people like her. The News-Register owes no one an apology in this case.

While I sympathize with people whose reputations are damaged by media reports of legal charges filed, a newspaper cannot pick and choose which felonies it will report. "Fairness" alone would dictate the reporting of all felony charges, not just some.


I took her issue to be more about re publishing all the allegations after they had just been that, I somewhat agree with her point.


I imagine that was an attempt for the dismissal story to be somewhat self-supporting. Although with specifics from only one side provided, the result might seem lopsided. The follow-up will no doubt offer a different perspective.

Again, my concern was not with the guilt or innocence of Hixson and McMullen but with readers scolding the newspaper for reporting the story with the details available.

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