The Oregon State Bar exists in order to protect the public
Attorney Erik Graeff Not Disbarred for Violent Felony
The Oregon State Bar’s failure to protect the public
A few days before Christmas in 2017, Portland-area attorney Erik Graeff exchanged several heated emails with Terrance Hogan, another attorney with whom Graeff was working on a case. Graeff spent the rest of the afternoon drinking beer in a local bar, apparently blacking out but still managing to drive 30 minutes through rush hour traffic to Hogan’s office in Beaverton. There, Graeff fired six rounds from his 9 mm handgun at the building. One of Graeff’s bullets shattered a window and missed the firm’s office manager by mere inches.
The crime was shocking in and of itself, but it also should have had immediate consequences for Graeff’s professional law license. After all, an attorney who believes that guns are an appropriate means of settling legal disputes is a clear and direct danger to the public, whom the Oregon State Bar is supposed to protect.
However, the Bar refused to immediately suspend Graeff’s law license while the criminal investigation played out. And even worse news for the Oregon public is that the Bar had ample warning about Graeff’s threats and acts of violence, including complaints that they had received from before the shooting. The complaints that the Bar ignored are disturbing.
On August 24, 2017, the Bar received notice that Graeff had physically assaulted his former client’s wife earlier that very day: Graeff had “laid hands on her and shoved her against a wall,” which resulted in “visible injuries” and the filing of a police report.
Just a few months later, in November, another complaint against Graeff came in to the Bar, from former clients Chelsie Buchanan and Raymond Stull. The pair provided the Bar with an email from Graeff in which Graeff threatened to “simply break” Stull’s “goddamn face,” and announced that he kept licensed firearms in his office, “so you have been warned.”
In early February, 2018—after the Beaverton shooting, but before his arrest for that incident—the Bar received yet another complaint about Graeff. That victim forwarded a threatening and profane email he had received from Graeff, which stated: “You listen to me you son of a bitch. I have had it with bad reviews from people whose case I don't take. I was attentive and generous with you. Take your
ing fraudulent review down, or I will show you a real legal battel [sic]."
In the two months after his arrest in late February 2018, the Bar received two more complaints about Graeff. One client alleged that Graeff had intimidated and scared her with abusive language, telling her to “shut the f
up” and “forget [she] ever heard” that a court date had been scheduled in her matter. Another client said that Graeff had threatened him and his wife over the phone.
Even after this eight-month avalanche of claims about Graeff’s violent threats and conduct, it took the Bar another nine months to suspend him—seventeen months in total—and the Bar did so only after Graeff had pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the shooting incident.
In other words, the Bar acted only after their licensee got his due process, and, moreover, the Bar acted only after another of their licensees, attorney Hogan, had been injured by Graeff. To boil that down even further, the Bar showed no concern over Graeff’s violent and abusive threats to his non-lawyer complainants, and the Bar only acted after Graeff turned violent and abusive against another lawyer.
Even worse, almost all of the complaints against Graeff were dismissed outright by the Bar, and the single one that did proceed—that of former clients Buchanan and Stull—went forward on charges unrelated to Graeff’s violent threats against them. Unbelievably, the Bar only charged Graeff with “failure to keep clients informed” about the status of their legal matter. His face-breaking threat was apparently okay with the Bar because Graeff was only threatening an ordinary citizen—not a lawyer.
After he pleaded guilty and served less than a year in prison for Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Reckless Endangerment, the Bar finally proceeded with their disciplinary case against Graeff, which consisted only of the shooting incident, felony drug manufacturing charges, and Buchanan and Stull’s watered-down charges. Graeff was sanctioned in 2020 with a three-year suspension from the practice of law. Rather than simply being grateful that he was not disbarred for literally shooting up another lawyer’s office, Graeff appealed his suspension to the Oregon Supreme Court, who heard oral arguments in the case in early January, 2021.
Ironically, the same Bar who charged Graeff with failure to keep his clients informed, failed to keep Graeff’s victims Buchanan and Stull informed about how the disciplinary case against him was proceeding. The Bar told Buchanan and Stull nothing about the progress of the Supreme Court case, and they first heard about the case progress from me, when I sent them copies of the court filings and a video of the oral arguments.
After reading the filings and watching the video, Buchanan and Stull sent a letter to Chief Justice Martha Walters and the other six Supreme Court Justices, informing them of the Bar’s “gross negligence” -- including, but by no means limited to, the Bar excluding them from testifying at Graeff’s disciplinary trial and failing to heed their clear warnings about Graeff’s unhinged behavior and violent threats.
“The Bar failed to intervene when Graeff threatened us,” Buchanan told me, “And then someone got shot at. Graeff even wrote a letter to the Bar trying to paint us as crazy just a few days after he shot into an occupied office building. Talk about crazy. I guess the Bar only cares when it’s another lawyer who gets hurt.”
The Oregon State Bar exists in order to protect the public against misconduct by the attorneys it licenses. If only the Bar had listened to the victims of Graeff’s misconduct instead of springing to action only when one of its own licensees needed help, then there wouldn’t be so many appalling stories like Buchanan and Stull’s.
Unfortunately, there are many more of these stories; and in a shocking number of them, the Bar allows the lawyers to weasel out of founded ethics charges by gaslighting the victims, calling their own former clients crazy, and aggravating the harm the lawyers inflicted.
Buchanan and Stull’s letter—regarding their negligent treatment by the Bar and the disturbing underlying case that Erik Graeff was working on for them -- can be read here
in its entirety. I will be following up on this story, and if you have one of your own to share, feel free to send it, confidentially if necessary, to the editor@NorthwestObserver.com.
|Post Date: 2021-04-05 18:10:54||Last Update: 2021-04-05 18:25:41|