By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

County cuts deal with departing counsel

He will also be allowed to cash out nine weeks of accumulated leave time and retain county health insurance benefits through Oct. 31. Together, they are worth a like sum.

In addition, the county reserves the right to retain his services as outside counsel at $120 an hour, not to exceed 20 hours a week. It negotiated a similar agreement with Sanai’s predecessor, John Gray, upon his retirement three years ago.

The special services contract is subject to automatic annual renewal, subject to termination by either party and Sanai’s continued ability to practice law in Oregon.

Sanai was disbarred in Washington two weeks ago by action of the Washington Supreme Court. It upheld the Washington State Bar Association on all nine counts of a disciplinary finding alleging “blatant misconduct.”

Although that does not automatically mean he will also be disbarred in Oregon, the two bar associations have an agreement to accept each other’s factual conclusions. That means the Oregon State Bar only has one thing to consider — whether disbarment would also be the appropriate sanction here for the offenses, or whether lesser penalties might suffice.

Spokeswoman Kateri Walsh said the Oregon Bar would be developing a recommendation in due course and giving Sanai a chance to respond. She said the instrument would be a petition for reciprocal discipline.

While the county doesn’t have a specific estimate on how much it might call on Sanai, and for how long, County Administrator Laura Tschabold said the primary purpose would be to help ease the two-member county counsel’s office through a transition period in which it will be half-staffed. “This would provide assistance to acting county counsel, should we need Rick’s historical memory and expertise,” said Commissioner Mary Stern.

Christian Boenisch, hired as deputy counsel in November 2010, will be heading the office in an acting capacity while the county goes about recruiting and screening candidates for the top job.

He said he anticipated calling on Sanai when it would be most efficient and economical to do so. For example, he said, in a case with a long history, Sanai might be able to accomplish in hours what it would take him days to familiarize himself.

The separation agreement includes a provision requiring Sanai to cooperate with the county in the defense of cases in which he has been named, has had direct involvement or has particular knowledge.

Sanai joined the office 14 years ago as assistant counsel under Gray. Friday will be his last day.

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