State opens deeper investigation into actions of PUD attorney
The Oregon State Bar Association has determined that complaints filed against a Scappoose attorney warrant deeper investigation by the state.
Philip Griffin, who practices law with Clarke Griffin LLC law firm in Scappoose, came under investigation in November after complaints alleged he violated codes of conduct for attorneys in his capacity as the attorney of record for the Columbia River People's Utility District.
The complaints were filed by Dave Baker and Richard Simpson, who both served as PUD board directors at the time, and Brady Preheim, a business owner and PUD ratepayer.
"Both [complaints] remain active investigations, although they have moved forward one step in our processes," Kateri Walsh, director of media relations for OSB, stated in an email. "Our Client Assistance Office, [which] does the initial screening review, did determine that there was enough evidence to warrant more formal investigation by the Disciplinary Counsel's Office."
Both of the cases were referred to the Disciplinary Counsel's Office on May 18, according to Walsh.
Preheim alleged Griffin overstepped his authority, specifically during a public meeting in which Griffin disseminated a press release, presumably drafted by his law office, that stipulated board actions to be taken that had yet to be voted on.
Baker and Simpson alleged Griffin withheld information regarding John Nguyen, who now serves as the PUD's general manager. In 2015, the PUD was negotiating with Nguyen to hire him back and settle a lawsuit he had filed against the district. Baker and Simpson allege Griffin withheld pertinent investigations into Nguyen from the full board and, in subsequent months, initiated costly litigation on behalf of the PUD.
Baker also told OSB that Griffin used his power as the PUD's attorney to threaten him and attempt to restrict his public speech during board meetings and in the press.
"I believe Phil Griffin has attempted to infringe upon my first amendment rights and all those who speak openly as elected officials," Baker stated.
Baker and Simpson also criticized Griffin for refusing to provide PUD directors with detailed monthly invoices for the legal services his firm provided. Griffin said providing a breakdown of the cost of legal services would violate some instances of attorney-client privilege and later told directors they could discuss legal invoices with him at his office, but the PUD would be billed for his time.
During Baker's time on the board, Griffin accused him of violating internal board policies.
Griffin did not respond to a request for comment.