Faced with a multimillion-dollar injury lawsuit, Oregon state Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, is now planning to demand records from a Portland newspaper and a tenant group to help fend off accusations the apartment complex he owns is unsafe.
In recent days, Monroe’s attorneys have proposed serving subpoenas to Willamette Week and the activist group Portland Tenants United — attempting to force both to turn over records concerning two tenants the senator is battling in court.
“You hereby are required to appear in the offices of HART WAGNER, LLP… to testify as a witness in the above cause on behalf of defendants,” read the proposed subpoenas, sent by Monroe’s attorneys to other lawyers involved in the case.
The documents demand notes, recordings and other records Willamette Week possesses in connection with a Nov. 15, 2017, story the paper ran on the lawsuit. From Portland Tenants United (PTU), they demand "all documents or records" related to the tenants involved.
According to the notices, Monroe’s attorneys will serve the subpoenas as early as March 26. Reached for comment, a lawyer for the senator told OPB he couldn’t discuss the plan.
“I’ve never seen a litigant try to subpoena a reporter’s notes or records,” said Michael Fuller, who is representing Areli Lopez, a resident of the East Portland apartment complex Monroe owns. “In a slip-and-fall [suit]? It’s insane.”
The lawsuit between Monroe and two tenants at his Red Rose Manor apartment complex is complicated.
It began in August 2017, when Lopez sued Monroe and the company that manages the complex, C & R Real Estate Services. The woman said her unit’s roof leaked, and that water pooling on the floor caused her to slip and fall in December 2015. Lopez says Monroe had plenty of warning about the leak, and that her injuries led to substantial medical bills and a permanent disability. Her lawsuit seeks $3.2 million.
Monroe, a longtime Democratic state legislator, responded with allegations of his own. He argues that Lopez’s boyfriend, Jose Ramirez, was the leaseholder of the unit and that Lopez was a “trespasser.” If Lopez was injured because of pooling water, Monroe says, the fault is Ramirez’s for failing to warn her about the hazard, not reporting leaks and not maintaining the apartment in a safe condition.
Monroe also believes the entire case is politically motivated. In a document filed in December, the senator says that Portland Tenants United — and specifically Margot Black, a prominent organizer with the group — has been publicizing the lawsuit to get him voted from office.
“Ms. Black has been orchestrating a politically motivated attack against defendant Monroe in an effort to affect the outcome of a Democratic Senatorial election,” the document says. The efforts, Monroe says, are meant to “stigmatize him and inappropriately affect the outcome of another political Democratic election in our country.”
Monroe is up for re-election this year and is facing primary challenges from former state Rep. Shemia Fagan and Kayse Jama, executive director of Unite Oregon. The senator has seen criticism from PTU and others since 2017, when his opposition helped kill a bill that would have allowed Oregon cities to institute rent controls.
Attorneys involved in the case say Monroe’s decision to subpoena reporters’ notes and activists’ records is rare.
“For this case, I do find it to be odd,” said Ron Cheng, who is representing Ramirez. Cheng said he plans to object to the subpoena, ensuring the matter will get a hearing before a judge.
“It’s a sign of desperation,” said Fuller, Lopez’s attorney, who doesn’t plan to object. “I have no idea what they’re fishing for."
PTU and Willamette Week can also oppose the subpoenas in court, if they choose. Mark Zusman, editor and publisher of Willamette Week, declined to say whether the paper would fight a subpoena, since none had been served.
In a statement, PTU called the subpoenas "desperate," saying: "PTU will meet its legal obligations head on and in good faith; we are not intimidated by Monroe's attempt to use legal process as a weapon against us."