Marion DA rejects records appeal
That ruling was issued even though statewide media reports have identified Patrick Lanning, president of Chemeketa’s Yamhill Valley Campus in McMinnville, as being named in a threatened lawsuit.
Both the News-Register and Salem Statesman Journal appealed Chemeketa’s denial of information, and both appeals were rejected by Beglau.
Certain information and records requested by newspapers are exempt under Oregon law unless there is a “public interest” in disclosure.
The News-Register request was unusual because much information requested already has been widely reported throughout Oregon. The Bend Bulletin first reported that an allegation of sexual misconduct led Chemeketa to place Lanning on paid leave in mid-February.
While on leave, Lanning became a top finalist to become president of Central Oregon Community College in Bend. When COCC was informed of the tort claim filed with Chemeketa, Lanning was dropped from consideration for that position and COCC’s search was begun anew.
According to the Bulletin, neither Chemeketa nor Lanning informed COCC that Lanning had been placed on administrative leave, and when the school learned of it, Chemeketa refused to reveal the causative element.
Chemeketa, in response to the News-Register’s request, released a tort claim notice from the alleged victim of a sexual encounter at an education conference held Feb. 6-7 at the Portland Airport Sheraton Hotel. Names of the alleged victim and offender were redacted from that document based on Chemeketa’s claim that it was protected “personal information” and that there was no public interest in disclosure of such information.
The tort claim threatened to sue the college “for acts of sexual abuse, or sexual contact” that occurred while the victim was “physically helpless.”
The Bulletin, after receiving the identical document from Chemeketa with names redacted, reported verification from the COCC attorney that Lanning was named in the tort claim.
Chemeketa also declined to release documents involving any disciplinary action related to Lanning, claiming there was insufficient public interest to require disclosure under Oregon law.
“After careful consideration,” Beglau wrote this week, “I am satisfied that the requested information is exempt from disclosure. Under the totality of the circumstances, I am not convinced that disclosure is required under Oregon law at this time.”
The DA did not address any specific legal arguments of the appeal, as is the norm in Yamhill County cases. Instead, Beglau wrote, “The Yamhill Valley News-Register may pursue a full review in the Circuit Court, where all the legal issues can be effectively considered.”
In his opinion, Beglau referred to a criminal investigatory review involving records that “fall under the custody of a different agency.” That was the first public indication that a criminal investigation might be underway.
That reference was apparently to the Port of Portland Police, which just released a police report on the incident in response to a records request from The Bulletin. (See related story, on jump)
Editors at the News-Register and Statesman Journal said this week they were considering possible appeals of Beglau’s decision to Marion County Circuit Court.
The college declined comment, with regrets. “We are sorry we are unable to comment on the district attorney’s decision,” said Greg Harris, vice president for public information.
While Lanning remains on leave, Jim Eustrom, executive dean for student affairs, is acting as Chemeketa’s chief academic officer. Like Lanning, he is doubling as president of the McMinnville campus.