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Browning gets three-year prison term


Longtime Forest Grove attorney leaves courtroom in cuffs, after moment of prayer

Longtime Forest Grove land-use attorney Bob Browning was sentenced Monday to more than three years in prison by Washington County Circuit Court Judge Kirsten Thompson.

“I’m very sad for you and your family,” Thompson said Friday, the first day of Browning’s sentencing hearing, but “even if the elderly person gave you permission to do this, the answer should have been ‘No.’”

Thompson took the weekend to think about Browning’s sentence after both sides spoke Friday. Assistant Attorney General Matt McCauley, who prosecuted the case for the Oregon Department of Justice, detailed each of the 13 counts of criminal mistreatment in the first degree, a Class C felony.

McCauley argued that Browning, 68, used his power of attorney to illegally take money out of financial accounts belonging to his mother, Alice Browning, and mother-in-law, Laura Sullivan, and use it for personal gain. The crimes occurred over several years beginning in January 2007. Both victims have since died.

“Sometimes money went back,” McCauley said. “Most often it did not.”

Browning, who pleaded no-contest to the charges April 9, didn’t dispute any of the transactions, including $25,000 he took from his mother’s account to loan to his brother, Douglas, and other withdrawals ranging from $1,000 to $45,000.

Instead, said defense attorney David Rich, Browning’s actions reflected a long history within the two families of “trading money back and forth” to help each other. Overall, more than $80,000 was taken from the women’s accounts.

Browning’s daughter, Lisa Maisel, tearfully described examples of such family generosity. A longtime nurse, Maisel also backed her father’s claim that her two grandmothers did not have incapacitating dementia until much later than described by the prosecution and that they understood and approved of her father’s financial transactions.

“I don’t feel — if they were here to speak to us — that they would feel they were victims,” Maisel said.

Rich noted that one $15,000 transfer was specifically approved by an Edward Jones financial representative who discussed it with Browning’s mother at the Marquis Forest Grove care center.

Browning himself argued that he was guilty of “a lack of judgment” but not criminal actions.

He cited a variety of physical and mental health problems — as well as side effects from medications — that may have contributed to his poor judgment.

“The odds of him surviving a year in jail are obviously quite slim,” Maisel told Thompson. “My father is quite ill.”

McCauley asked for 12 years in prison. Rich asked for probation and community service.

Some 20 people attended Friday’s hearing, including members of the Forest Grove United Church of Christ — Browning’s church — as well as community members and longtime friends of Browning.

“I just think it’s a witch hunt,” said Don Haynes, who went to school with Browning.

Also attending was Matt Smith, the Forest Grove detective who worked on the complicated case, and Judith Noyes, an elder-abuse investigator with the state. Noyes said Alice Browning appeared confused during one of her visits, mistaking her for Maisel.

Kay Strain of Forest Grove attended because Browning’s office had mishandled the credit-card accounts belonging to her daughter, Kandi Dargatz, who died of cancer at age 44.

Instead of closing the accounts, Browning’s secretary stole one of the credit cards and “used $2,500 of my dead daughter’s money,” said Strain, who had used Browning for two previous legal matters that “went OK.

“To be fair,” Strain added, “Mr. Browning did eventually pay that money back.”

At the end of Friday’s hearing, Browning removed his blue sport coat as he prepared to be taken back to the Washington County Jail to await Thompson’s final decision Monday. He will be transferred to a prison facility — inside or outside Oregon — that can offer him the use of a medical bed, according to Maisel.

Ten people gathered at the front of the courtroom with Jennifer Yocum, pastor of the FGUCC, to pray with Browning before he was handcuffed and removed.

Outside the courtroom, Yocum said church members have been praying that Browning will experience God’s grace during this difficult time.

As Christians, “It’s not our position to be in judgment. Our position is one of support,” she said. “God’s love is neverending.”

Announcing the 40-month sentence Monday, Thompson said she took into account that Browning had no criminal history and that neither victim appeared to be hurt by the crimes.

But she also considered the fact that Browning’s brother, Douglas, had expressed concern about how Browning was handling their mother’s finances and had at one point confronted Browning about it.

A deputy began Monday’s proceedings by warning the dozen onlookers against communication with Browning, who appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit.

“On that note, I just want to say ‘I love my dad!’’” yelled Maisel, who held hands with her daughter while Thompson spoke.

After Thompson pronounced the sentence, Browning, whose ankles and wrists were shackled, struggled to stand until a deputy stepped in to help him up.

“Thank you, your honor,” he said.

Reporter Kathleen Rohde contributed to this story.