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Hush Money: Undisclosed legal settlement hangs over DA race 

District attorney candidate Pat Flaherty has attacked incumbent Mike Dugan on his politicking, his criminal-charging protocol and his handling of the high-profile David Black case.

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District attorney candidate Pat Flaherty has attacked incumbent Mike Dugan on his politicking, his criminal-charging protocol and his handling of the high-profile David Black case. Recently, he opened up a new front that Dugan may not be able to ignore in the final stretch of his reelection bid.

Two weeks ago, Flaherty used the League of Women Voters candidate debate, a usually tame event, as a forum to hammer his former boss, 20-plus-year incumbent Mike Dugan on an issue that Flaherty had been pushing only privately in his campaign to unseat his former boss. Answering an audience question about his views on governmental transparency, Flaherty, a fomer chief deputy prosecutor, accused Dugan of allowing a prosecutor in his office to sexually discriminate against young female employees and then promoting that prosecutor.

Dugan flatly denied the claim, but acknowledged that his office had experienced some personnel issues that were now resolved.

That might be true, but what he didn’t tell audience members was that it cost Oregon taxpayers $125,000 to handle those issues. On Friday afternoon, state records shed a little light onto just why it was so expensive to get the DA’s office back on track.

The records, which were released by the Department of Justice after a public records request, included the resignation letter from former deputy district attorney Mary Jo Mongan, the employee who received that six-figure settlement.

The terse two-plus page letter details the treatment that Mongan was subjected to by her manager, Jody Vaughan, a hard-driving female prosecutor who was then head of the misdemeanor team. This team is a proving ground for young attorneys like Mongan, some of whom were fresh out of law school.

Among other things that Mongan detailed were allegations that she had been publicly derided by her supervisor, singled out for criticism that wasn’t given to her male colleagues, sneeringly micro-managed and ultimately retaliated against when she took the concerns to Dugan’s right-hand man, chief deputy Darryl Nakahira.

But the treatment persisted and in January of 2008, Mongan quit, providing a detailed account of the reason for her resignation in a letter addressed to Dugan.

She wasn’t the only one fleeing the prosecutor’s office.

Including Mongan, at least five young female prosecutors left the district attorney’s office while Vaughan was overseeing the misdemeanor team. Some of them are now in private practice and one works for the Department of Justice. Vaughan is still at the DA’s office although she is no longer in charge of the misdemeanor team. This seeming mass exodus from the prosecutor’s office is common knowledge among the legal community, but it’s been all but ignored by the media even in the midst of a political campaign. In an interview Monday morning, Dugan said that The Bulletin has had a copy of the settlement agreement for months. But the paper has yet to publish anything. A story that the paper printed on April 30 after the candidate debate forum made no mention of the exchange about the hostile workplace settlement.

A call to Executive Editor John Costa on Monday to find out why the paper was unwilling to follow up on the story hadn’t been returned as of Tuesday afternoon. It’s not for want of information. Documents released recently by the Department of Justice, copies of which have been provided to The Bulletin, The Source and KTVZ, include accounts from other attorneys detailing the harsh treatment that they had received from Vaughan, which in one case involved Vaughan pulling a young female deputy prosecutor into the jury room bathroom and yelling at her while a local defense attorney sat outside in the jury room, overhearing the exchange. That prosecutor has since quit.

Another young attorney, Kelly Hansen, endured some of the same type of treatment and was told by her coworkers that it was part of a pattern with her supervisor. Hansen decided to leave when the opportunity presented itself.

“It’s been three years, but I didn’t feel like I was going to be given a chance to succeed and it was extremely stressful,” she said in a phone interview this week.

Hansen started documenting the treatment she was receiving while she was still an employee in the office. She sent the notes to the Department of Justice (DOJ) after it opened an investigation following Mongan’s resignation.

“I have never received such poor training and had such an inept, hostile, crazy manager. It amazes me that a DA’s office would want to treat its (deputies) like incompetent people and harass them. I think Jody has a problem with women and with any person who dares stick their neck out. She is a bully,” Hansen wrote prior to her resignation.

Speaking Monday morning at his office, Dugan acknowledged the past issues at his office, but said they have been dealt with appropriately as a result of the Department of Justice probe—an investigation that Dugan points out was requested by himself, in consultation with Deschutes County Legal Counsel Mark Pilliod after receiving Mongan’s scathing resignation letter. DOJ spokesman Tony Green confirmed that its investigators were working on behalf of Dugan at his request and their role was advisory rather than investigatory.

“The DA is a state employee. We represent DAs. There is nothing weird about it,” Green said.

While the DOJ stopped short of issuing recommendations, Dugan said he made changes to his office based on what he learned in the course of the inquiry. Dugan said he is prohibited by state rules regarding the release of personnel information from discussing some of those changes. He did confirm, however, that Vaughan is no longer running the misdemeanor team or supervising employees.

Asked why he didn’t intervene earlier with Vaughan and his misdemeanor team, Dugan said he wasn’t aware of the scope of the problem until the outside attorneys began talking to his subordinates and former employees. He said that some of the information that he might have needed in order to act was provided in exit interviews that he didn’t have access to at the time. He has since asked to be provided with a summary of the comments given by his departing employees.

Hansen said she has a hard time believing that her former boss and his direct subordinates were totally in the dark about what was going on inside his office.

In fact, he wasn’t totally out of the loop. At one point Mongan took her concerns about Vaughan to chief deputy Nakahira who enlisted Dugan’s help. The DA confirmed that he sat Vaughan down for a discussion of her management style. That’s when things went from bad to worse for Vaughan’s employee. Instead of toning down her criticism, Vaughan confronted Mongan, according to both Dugan and Mongan’s resignation letter. That’s a violation of state labor laws and it opened the DA up to what eventually became the costly settlement.

But supervisors including Dugan and Nakahira either didn’t know or didn’t act on Vaughan’s behavior. Instead, Vaughan continued to supervise Mongan and the other deputies on the misdemeanor team. According to Mongan’s letter, Vaughan pulled her into the office of another supervisor and accused her of poor performance. Ultimately, Mongan said she was given a sub-par review and the standard pay increase was withheld. Rather than continue to endure, she quit.

“I have tried to work within the hostility of the workplace because of the importance of employment to me. However, I am no longer able to handle the hostility of this environment and the repercussions on my mental and physical health outweigh my maintaining employment with Deschutes County,” Mongan wrote in her January 2008 resignation letter.

Last May, the state cut her a check for $125,000 settling all existing and future claims against the county.

Dugan said he acted on advice from the DOJ’s attorneys when he agreed to settle the case with Mongan and pointed out that the money came from the state—not local taxpayers. A distinction that might matter to some. He takes issue with the notion that the DA’s office is anything but a great place to work, despite the past issues on his misdemeanor team. He points out that all of his deputies, with the exception of Wells Ashby, have endorsed his re-election. (Ashby is running for judge and is refraining from making endorsements. Dugan, however, is campaigning on his behalf.)

“I think that anybody who runs an office of this size over time is going to have some bumps in the road. I’m sorry that Patrick Flaherty has chosen to raise these issues in the last 10 days of the election,” Dugan said.

He characterized Flaherty’s decision to broach the issue in the waning stages of the campaign as “mudslinging.”

In an interview Tuesday, Flaherty called Dugan’s assertion “outrageous.” He said that one of the reasons that issue wasn’t raised earlier is that Dugan had requested that the League of Women Voters debate be pushed back to the end of April. Flaherty, however, confirmed that the public records request that produced the settlement and some of the investigator’s notes was made by a local attorney who had been involved with his campaign.

He takes exception to Dugan’s assertion that raising the settlement adds up to a political low blow. He accused Dugan of attempting to hide the settlement and the surrounding issues.

“When you’re the DA you have an obligation to be 100 percent truthful. Certainly when you’re asked a question in front of the League of Women Voters and you say my office is transparent and then you fail to disclose information that you have about issues that your opponent just raised, that’s dishonest—that’s not transparent. That’s the only word that applies,” Flaherty said.

Just a few days away from the primary, Dugan says that has been forthright about the settlement. It’s his opponent who is misleading people by saying that the issues were related to gender discrimination and that Vaughan had been promoted since the investigation. Neither of which is true, Dugan says.

Still, he acknowledged that there were problems that could have been handled better at the time.

“I’m not perfect,” he said. “I make mistakes. All of us do. I hope and pray that those mistakes that I make are not injurious to the public and I don’t think they have been,” he said.

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