12/30/07

Rape lies could imperil Gov.'s Labor Dept. nomination

The Oregon State Bar issued a letter Friday afternoon rejecting formal misconduct complaints against Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

In essence, the ruling stops the bar's investigation into whether Kulongoski lied when he said he knew nothing about former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt's sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl while Goldschmidt was Portland mayor in the 1970s.

The complaints were made by conservative radio host Lars Larson and Newberg resident James Johnson after the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training opened an investigation of similar allegations against Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto. Giusto was the Oregon State Police bodyguard and driver for Goldschmidt when he was governor.

The complaints stem from statements by a former Goldschmidt speech writer, Fred Leonhardt, that he told Kulongoski about the sex abuse during a party in 1994, while Kulongoski was Oregon attorney general. In an affidavit filed in the Giusto investigation, Leonhardt said he also discussed the matter with Kulongoski on several other occasions.

Kulongoski said he never heard of the illicit relationship until Goldschmidt admitted it just before news reports in May 2004. The bar's inquiry was an attempt to sort out the contradictory statements.

Chris Mullmann, the bar's assistant general counsel, issued Friday's ruling. He found insufficient evidence of professional misconduct by Kulongoski to proceed with an investigation.

"Mr. Leonhardt and Gov. Kulongoski have differing recollections of events that occurred more than a decade ago," Mullmann wrote. "I find that both Mr. Leonhardt and Gov. Kulongoski are credible in their recollections."

Mullmann said the conflicting testimony by two equally credible witnesses "does not constitute sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that misconduct may have occurred warranting further investigation by the bar."

Kulongoski declined to comment on the ruling.

His spokeswoman, Patty Wentz, said, "The letter is very clear, and there's not much to add to it."

Larson and Johnson have until Jan. 11 to have the ruling reviewed by the bar's general counsel, whose decision is final. Larson said he will appeal the decision.

"To come to the conclusion that you have two stories that contradict each other -- but that they are both credible -- is absurd," Larson said. "They don't want to look into this any deeper. The thing that they should do if they found that both stories have credibility is they should go on to find out what the truth is."

Leonhardt said he's disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.

"I think the fix has been in on the Goldschmidt coverup from the beginning," he said.

Leonhardt said he was amazed that the bar, the professional group that licenses and investigates attorneys, did not interview him.

"They never called me," he said. "I could have told them about other conversations I've had with the governor about this crime."

Leonhardt said the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training asked him to take a polygraph exam to bolster his statements and he passed it.

But Mullmann, in his letter, said the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled polygraph evidence inadmissible in legal proceedings, so he gives little weight to it.

Leonhardt said there's a Catch-22 aspect to the bar's ruling.

"The bar says it can't go on without hard evidence, but the only way it can get hard evidence is to investigate," he said.

(oregonlive.com)

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