Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court a 30-day suspension of his law license for making a false statement to the state bar. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled he made four false statements and handed down a 60-day suspension.
The suspension takes effect 60 days from the Dec. 12 date of the decision.
Suspensions of district attorneys are “quite rare but it’s certainly not unheard of,” said Kateri Walsh, spokeswoman for the Oregon State Bar, which handles discipline matters for the state’s attorneys. Nisley has been district attorney since 1999.
The matter stems from a bar complaint filed against Nisley in 2015 by then county counsel for Wasco County Brad Timmons. Timmons alleged Nisley had begun a retaliatory investigation in 2014 against Moncia Morris, then the county’s finance director, because Morris had spurned Nisley’s verbal sexual advance at a conference three years earlier and then reported him to her supervisor.
The bar did not uphold any of Timmons’s 20 allegations, but did file a formal complaint in 2017 alleging Nisley made six false statements in three response letters to the bar complaint. The alleged false statements either said Morris was not the “target” or “subject” of the investigation, or that it was a “general investigation.”
The investigation concerned two small pay advances in cash that Morris made to an intern in 2013, which the intern paid back in installments. Nisley told investigators he believed the cash advances were an illegal loan of taxpayer funds.
In 2018, a bar trial panel ruled that Nisley made one false statement and imposed the one-month suspension. It said it was “baffled” that Nisley didn’t admit to investigators that Morris was the subject of the investigation, but also found Nisley testified in “a straightforward, responsible, calm, respectful and truthful fashion” and that his explanation for the evidence was “consistent and persuasive.”
The Supreme Court found that Nisley made four false statements in saying Morris wasn’t the subject or target of the investigation, and that it was a “general investigation,” which was done at Nisley’s request by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Nisley said in a statement, “I understand the Supreme Court’s decision. I disagree with their conclusions. This moment does not define me with respect to who I am, what I do or how I live my life. I am relieved that this matter is concluded. I am blessed to have my family, friends and coworkers who have stood by me through this process. I have no further comment at this time.”
The court noted that Nisley asked the DOJ about the status of the case “in a way that focused on Morris and, more importantly, suggested a sense of urgency about her personally: that she may have engaged in financial malfeasance; that she was still handling county funds; that she had made a similar cash payment in the past; and that she appeared to be concealing information from officials.”
The court concurred with the bar’s contention that Nisley “intended to falsely convey to the Bar that he had not singularly focused on Morris, when, in fact, he had.”
The court agreed that Nisley’s statements were both false and material to the bar’s inquiry.
After its investigation, the DOJ determined no wrongdoing had been done. Nisley took the case back, did some of his own investigation, in which he learned Morris was given authorization to make the cash payments, and turned it over to an outside prosecutor for a charging decision. That outside prosecutor decided not to file charges, but said “everyone should be able to agree that an IOU system of handing out public money with a payment plan is not proper.”