Tuesday, September 25, 2001
POLK COUNTY -- State Rep. Lane Shetterly didn't need to hire Ben Matlock or Perry Mason to clear his name.
Circuit Court Judge Jamese Rhodes simply agreed with Shetterly.
"What was particularly satisfying to me was that she incorporated the argument I made to the commission in my first memorandum in March of last year."
Basically, the judge said there was nothing wrong with Shetterly taking his wife on a trip to Hawaii for conference sponsored by the beer and wine industry.
Shetterly and several other current and former lawmakers faced charges of impropriety before the Oregon Government Standards and Practices.
But in ruling last week, Judge Rhodes said the charges are "arbitrary, standardless and inconsistent with prior practice."
Shetterly said he had been saying that all along.
Lobbyist Paul Romain of Portland invited Shetterly to speak at the conference in 1998.
The invitation included airfare and hotel expenses for both Shetterly and his wife, Francine Shetterly.
State senators Neil Bryant of Bend and Tom Hartung also attended and also got in trouble for bringing along their wives.
Shetterly said the reading of a state statute is at the heart of the matter. The statute prohibits giving legislators or their wives anything of value.
But there are exceptions.
One exception is paying for food, travel or lodging expenses for legislators attending events relating to their official capacity.
Shetterly said the exception, like the prohibition, logically applies to both the legislator and his or her spouse.
Judge Rhodes agreed.
The ethics commission had dropped similar charges against state senators Ken Baker of Clackamas and Dave Nelson of Pendleton.
They and their wives took the trip to Hawaii too. But their wives went as state-paid assistants to their husbands.
Ethics commission members thought that was an important distinction. The judge thought otherwise.
She said there is no real distinction between wives on or off the state payroll.
Commissioners argued that the unpaid wives, including Francine Shetterly, were invited to ensure their husbands' attendance.
"If the commission relied on that theory, senators Baker and Nelson should have been prosecuted as well," Rhodes said.
All those accused thought they were acting according to the law and even reported the airfare in their annual reports, she said.
If commissioners don't like what Shetterly and the other lawmakers did, Rhodes said they ought to try to change the law rather than going after individual lawmakers.
Commissioners will likely decide at their Oct. 19 meeting whether or not to appeal the judge's ruling.
The statute (ORS 244.020) was enacted in 1975. The authors of the bill, testifying before a Senate committee, even said food and travel expenses for legislators and spouses were exempt.
Shetterly said he never lost any sleep over the controversy. Still, he said, he's glad that it's over.
"It's not a position anyone would want to be in, but once in it, this is certainly the best outcome -- to not only win, but to be vindicated on your own personal analysis of the law and the facts."