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Conflict Of Interest Concerns Prompt Prosecution Switch In High-Profile Oregon Whistleblowing Case

Due to potential conflict of interest with the Marion County District Attorney's Office, investigation of a state whistleblowing case has been turned over to Yamhill County.

The case involves a top state information technology officer who has admitted leaking more than 6,000 e-mails from former governor John Kitzhaber’s personal account to Willamette Week, a politically-oriented alternative weekly based in Portland.

State IT supervisor Michael Rodgers, who has refused demands that he resign, said he copied the e-mails because Kitzhaber first ordered them destroyed, then demanded an opportunity to sift through them with his lawyer to sort personal messages from those dealing with state business. He said he didn’t trust Kitzhaber and his allies to refrain from tampering with the public record, so preserved a copy of the messages and eventually decided to effectively make them public by turning them over to the paper.

The Oregon State Police were ordered to conduct an investigation into the leak, and quickly began to focus on Rodgers, who had motive and opportunity. At that point, he was placed on paid administrative leave, which continues.

OSP initially began working with the Marion County District Attorney’s Office, where Kitzhaber nephew Matthew Kemmy serves as a senior prosecutor. However, Rodgers and his attorney cried foul after another prosecutor from that office threatened to charge him with more than 6,000 counts of official misconduct — one for each of e-mail — if he held steadfast in his refusal to resign from his top state IT post.

In late May, Willamette Week ran a story on Kemmy’s relationship with Kitzhaber and role in the office. Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau insisted that it did not pose a

conflict of interest, but decided nonetheless to ask Berry to assume command of the case in neighboring Yamhill County.

Willamette Week initially kept Rodgers’ identity secret. However, as investigators closed in, and he was placed on leave, he opted to go public.

Rodgers said he was afraid the e-mails would be destroyed if he didn’t act, and it was clear that many contained information about alleged influence-peddling on the part of former First Lady Cylvia Hayes, which is what forced Kitzhaber’s resignation in the first place.

Kitzhaber resigned in February, the day after Willamette Week broke the story about his staff having ordered the destruction of the e-mails.

Originally posted by Nicole Montesano on newregister.com.

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