By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Counsel facing new challenges

In his complaint, Hingson accused them of conspiring to withhold, and then withholding, negative information from the arresting deputy’s personnel file in a drunk driving case in which he was defending a Newberg man. He also accused Sanai of lying under oath when he said a review he conducted revealed nothing that might be helpful to the defense.

The judge in the case eventually ordered the deputy’s file turned over to him for a review in chambers. He said his review showed it did, indeed, contain such material and upbraided Sanai for making statements to the contrary.

The professional responsibility board essentially serves as a grand jury for the state bar. It helps determine when formal charges are warranted, according to bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh. 

Sanai is also facing disbarment proceedings in the state of Washington. The Washington State Bar has twice voted to revoke Sanai’s license to practice in Washington, citing “blatant misconduct.” Sanai has twice appealed to the Washington Supreme Court in an effort to fend off disbarment.

He won a 5-4 decision on procedural grounds the first time. His latest and final appeal is scheduled for hearing March 21.

In addition, he is facing disciplinary proceedings in Oregon for allegedly failing to inform the Oregon State Bar of the disciplinary proceedings in Washington, which have been moving through the process since 2004. He has filed a response contending he provided notice at the time, though bar files show no record of it.

While the Washington disciplinary action and the resulting Oregon disciplinary action growing out of it have nothing to do with his work as county counsel — they revolve around his conduct in the course of representing his mother in issues from a divorce proceeding — they could well affect it. In fact, they could result in its termination.

He faces a threat on two counts.

First, any time a member lawyer is disbarred in another state, the Oregon Bar considers whether the underlying misconduct also warrants his disbarment in Oregon. Second, the Oregon Bar could pursue his disbarment independently on the failure to report issue. And if he loses his license to practice in Oregon, he will no longer be able to represent the county.

Adding to Sanai’s troubles, the Newberg Graphic called in a strongly worded Wednesday editorial for the county commissioners to place him on unpaid leave until his status is resolved.

However, unless the editorial itself sways them, commissioners don’t seem so inclined. Speaking prior to its publication, Commissioners Kathy George and Mary Stern said that given the family nature of the issue and the uncertainty about its ultimate outcome, they planned to take a wait-and-see stance.

“This is America, where you’re innocent until proven guilty,” said Stern, a lawyer by profession herself. “Once there are final determinations made, we will act accordingly.”

And George, this year’s board chair, agreed.

The third commissioner, newcomer Allen Springer, said he did not feel he had enough information on the issue yet to comment.

Sanai was hired by the county in 1999 as assistant county counsel. In 2010, he succeeded John Gray as county counsel on a 2-1 vote, with Springer’s predecessor, Leslie Lewis, registering the dissent. 

Lewis said she was not aware of his bar difficulties at the time, even though he was six years into them by then. She said she had nothing against him personally, but felt the county had not done enough to attract the kind of field the job deserved.

She said she learned of its when she was preparing to assume the board chairmanship in December 2011. But she said, “I was never given the impression that it was very serious.”

She said, “During my 12 years with Yamhill County, it was not uncommon for Mr. Gray and Mr. Sanai to have bar complaints filed against them. These were typically dismissed quickly. This Washington complaint now sounds far more serious than was originally described to me.”

Gray said Sanai had a clean disciplinary record when he was hired in 1999. And he said his understudy always performed well as his assistant.

“I think Rick is a very solid lawyer and is doing a good job as county counsel,” Gray said. “One thing I’ll say about Rick is that he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”

According to the Washington State Bar, Sanai filed more than 700 legal motions, most of them frivolous, while representing his mother’s interests in Washington. If so, Gray said, it did not interfere with his work locally. 

“The thing about Rick is he’s an intense guy,” Gray said. “What he does is work.

“He’s the kind of guy who wakes up Saturday morning and goes to work. He’s very driven.”

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