DALLAS -- A West Salem resident has been charged with attempting to bribe three members of the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District.
The case, which charges E.M. Easterly with three counts of bribe giving, may be heading toward a grand jury after a brief hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
"The charges stem from an incident that occurred at a (PSWCD board) meeting in March of this year," said Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry, who is trying the case on behalf of the Polk County District Attorney's Office. "They were reported to the Dallas Police Department on March 10."
A plea agreement had since been reached between Easterly and the DA's office. But during a hearing last week, Easterly objected to language describing the charges, causing Polk County Circuit Court Judge Fred Avera to reject the guilty plea and the agreement.
During the hearing Aug. 9, Easterly agreed to plead guilty to three charges of bribe giving, involving three members of the PSWCD -- Claude White, Frank Pender and Chad Woods.
"We have filled out a plea petition," James Susee, Easterly's attorney, said at the beginning of the hearing. "I went over that with my client. He has signed it and I believe he is very specific in what he admits to doing."
Avera then began to read the charges aloud, alleging Easterly reportedly offered a bribe in an attempt to influence the votes of three members of the PSWCD, to which Easterly immediately objected.
The charge includes attempting to knowingly give or agree to give money or other benefits with intent to influence a public servant's vote, opinion, judgment, action or discretion in an official capacity. In Easterly's case, the charge, as read by Avera, specifically involved the board members' votes.
"To all of that (charge) I'm certainly willingly pleading guilty," Easterly said. "But I'm not pleading guilty to having requested something in terms of a vote."
Berry rejected Easterly's explanation.
"I'm really not in the mood to split hairs with Mr. Easterly, your honor," Berry said. "He offered the money to not to approve a report, which would have been approved by a vote."
Easterly conferred with his lawyer and then changed his position, saying he would accept the language, but under protest.
"I'm not sure I can leave it at that," Avera said in response.
Berry said he would take the case to a grand jury, which Avera agreed to, though Easterly again said he would willing plead guilty.
"I won't accept the plea," Avera said, saying he will enter a not guilty plea on Easterly's behalf.
Easterly said Monday he protested during the Aug. 9 hearing because of confusion about what document was being read. However, he added he isn't positive that the incident the charges stem from constitutes bribery.
Easterly said he committed what he calls "a stunt" in open testimony during the board meeting, which he said board members believe constituted an act of bribery.
He didn't elaborate further, but did say: "I've been accused of something that is quite broad. Whether I'm actually guilty, I'm perfectly willing to knowledge that may be the case, but there are questions relating to the facts of the case."
When asked after the hearing what specifically Easterly offered and for what, Berry declined to comment, citing that the case still is open. Court documents in the case file don't offer more detail on the incident and the police report of the incident was not available at press time.
Easterly said his attorney continues to work with Berry to try to resolve the issue.
A pretrial conference is scheduled for Aug. 30. If the case goes to trial, it has been scheduled to begin Oct. 12.