“This complaint is at the earliest stage of the investigation,” said Kateri Walsh, a spokeswoman with the Oregon State Bar.
“Anyone can complain about anything,” she said.
The complaints questioned whether Bundy’s Eugene-based attorneys, Lissa Casey and Mike Arnold, violated bar ethics when Casey visited the refuge last month. Specifically, that action could be a violation of section 7.3 of the bar rules, which prohibits attorneys from soliciting clients by phone, electronic contact or in person.
Casey said she was providing pro bono legal services to the militants occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Since the militant leaders were arrested Jan. 26, the firm has started to raise money for Bundy’s defense through a crowdfunding campaign.
“We entirely expected that people who disagree with Ammon would complain to the bar, due to politics or due to irresponsible reporting,” Arnold said in a statement Monday.
“We acted entirely consistently with what the rules of professional conduct both permit and encourage,” he said.
Portland-based legal ethics attorney Peter Jarvis, a partner at the firm Holland & Knight, said he would represent the Arnold law firm if the bar complaint process continues.
One of the complaints, filed anonymously, named Casey. The other, filed by a Eugene woman, named both Arnold and Casey.
When the bar receives a complaint, it first screens the challenge to see if an actual rule has been violated.
Often, Walsh said, the bar will ask the attorneys named in the complaint to respond so the bar can get their perspective on the case.
After that, the bar determines whether there’s enough merit in the complaint to move forward with a formal investigation.
“At this particular stage, there’s not been a finding of misconduct,” Walsh said regarding the complaints against Arnold and Casey. “There has not in fact been a finding that it is worthy of forwarding to disciplinary counsel’s office.”
Jarvis said his client did nothing wrong, and that all the facts had not been presented in the first OPB story.
“The contact with Bundy was in the form of a letter, with the word ‘advertising materials,’ prominently displayed,” Jarvis said. “It was delivered by [Arnold firm] lawyers at the site.”
Both Jarvis and Arnold declined OPB’s request for a copy of that letter, which both men described as an “advertisement.” However, Arnold read a portion of it to a reporter at the Oregonian.
“The purpose of this letter is to request a meeting with you to discuss whether the attorneys of Arnold Law may be of any assistance to you on a pro bono basis in finding a resolution to the situation in Harney County, Oregon,” the letter reportedly stated.
Arnold told the newspaper that Bundy gave him permission to read the advertisement publicly.
Jarvis said the group made the five-hour trip to the refuge with the sole intention of handing the advertisement to Bundy.
“They met for about five minutes,” Jarvis said.
In a Feb. 4 email to OPB, Casey referenced offering multiple militants legal advice during the Jan. 9 visit, not just Bundy.
“I felt duty-bound to give pro bono advice to the protesters out there given that they were practicing civil disobedience and didn’t appear to have any legal counsel,” Casey wrote. “Since we practiced constitutional and criminal defense law, our firm agreed that we should probably run over there and offer to give them free legal advice.”
Jarvis said Casey’s account of speaking to multiple people still meshes with the Arnold Law firm’s stated intent to speak only to Bundy.
“I’m speculating, but her original thought was probably to say, ‘Oh my goodness, they need help,’” Jarvis said. “[The Arnold Law firm] was in a position to arrange counsel for others. But again, I’m speculating…I have not asked [Casey].”
Arnold did attempt to arrange legal counsel for the militants still inside the refuge late last month. He called militant David Fry and put him in contact with Portland attorney Wayne Mackeson.
Mackeson had represented Arnold in a 2008 Oregon State Bar hearing. Arnold was eventually reprimanded in that instance for providing alcohol to a minor after he had prosecuted her for driving under the influence.
The militants ultimately declined Mackeson’s services, and remain at the refuge.
Possible sanctions for a bar violation in the Bundy case could range from a public reprimand to a suspension that can last between 30 days and 5 years, or disbarment, which bar spokeswoman Walsh said is permanent in Oregon.
Speaking Monday, Jarvis also addressed why Arnold lawyers delivered the letter in person to Bundy instead of sending it by mail.
Parcel service continued to the refuge at the time, and people from around the country had sent hundreds of packages – including some containing sex toys.
Jarvis said there was uncertainty at the law firm whether the message would reach Bundy, which is why the lawyers decided to hand deliver the advertisement.
“It seemed like a reasonable way to reach them,” he said.
The Arnold law firm is also raising money for the Bundy defense, with a stated fundraising goal of $100,000. Jarvis said that money does not show a “pecuniary” interest, which would violate ethics laws.
“That money could be going to pay for investigators, and other costs related to the trial,” Jarvis said. “These things tend to be long-term slogs.”
Jarvis said he met with members of the Arnold law firm to give ethics advice before the advertisement was delivered. That meeting was first reported in an article appearing in The Atlantic.
“I won’t comment on what we talked about, but…I can say their motive was to bring a peaceful end to the occupation,” Jarvis said.
Arnold’s Twitter bio describes him as “helping clients through what passes as high profile in Oregon.”
There is perhaps no higher profile client in Oregon right now than Ammon Bundy. And Jarvis acknowledged it’s a “fair question” to ask whether the firm reached out to the militant leader because of his notoriety.
“It was a situation where they thought they could help,” Jarvis said.