Oregon denies money for former first lady's email release fight

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 02, 2015 11:03 PM

By Shelby Sebens

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon denied a request by former Governor John Kitzhaber's fiancee for state funds to pay for a legal fight related to an influence-peddling scandal that resulted in the four-term Democrat's resignation, officials said on Thursday.

Cylvia Hayes requested in a letter sent by her attorney to the state's Attorney General last week that taxpayers finance her legal team's fight against the disclosure of her emails related to state business.

The letter argues that Hayes is authorized by state law to obtain special counsel because Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum previously declared Hayes a "public body" in an order requiring her to comply with a public records request.

Because of that, Hayes is requesting that the state pay her legal fees and costs. 

The Oregon Department of Justice rejected that argument on Thursday, saying it "cannot and will not authorize the expenditure of public funds under these circumstances."

"We see nothing in the statute suggesting that the state is obligated to pay for counsel on behalf of your client," the state's Justice Department's Chief Counsel Steven Wolf said in a letter to Hayes' attorney Whitney Boise.

Boise could not be reached for comment.  

Separately, Hayes already has a public defender representing her in a federal criminal investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service into allegations of influence peddling.

Hayes' fight began in December when she refused to turn over emails to the Oregonian newspaper after it made a public records request. In January, the newspaper appealed to the state's Department of Justice.

Hayes sued the paper, arguing she is not a public official despite her previous role in the governor's office as an unpaid adviser.

Kitzhaber resigned in February as his administration faced federal and state corruption investigations because of allegations that his fiancée, Hayes, used her role in his office for financial gain. [ID:nL1N0VN1XI]

An attorney for the state's flagship newspaper has argued in court filings that Hayes does not have a right to protect herself from self-incrimination, as her lawsuit claims, and that she should not be allowed to recoup legal fees, according to the paper.

(Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Paul Tait)