Thursday, January 17, 2019

For Decades, Clients Trusted a Portland Lawyer to Get Compensation for Their Injuries. It Turns Out She Kept Much of Their Money. - Willamette Week

For three decades, Lori Deveny was an accomplished Portland lawyer.

Deveny had deep roots in Oregon: She grew up in Eugene and graduated from Willamette University College of Law alongside her future husband, Bob Deveny.

After a brief stint as a public defender, Deveny switched to personal-injury law. She worked at a Portland firm until the mid-'90s, when she struck out on her own.

As a solo practitioner, Deveny had an office downtown and a thriving practice. She enjoyed the trappings of success—flashy cars, visits to Las Vegas casinos and big-game hunting trips. Her office was decorated with a taxidermied zebra she and her husband brought back from an African safari.

"She liked her diamonds," says Aubrey Hunter, a former client. "She said if I were ever to get engaged, she had a good person to go to in South Africa to get diamonds."

Deveny gave her time generously to the legal community and professional organizations. In 1996, she was elected vice president of Queen's Bench, the Multnomah County chapter of Oregon Women Lawyers.

She was subsequently elected president of Queen's Bench, a board member and president of OWLS, and president of the National Conference of Women's Bar Associations. In 2016, OWLS honored Deveny for her volunteer service "to promote women in the legal profession." She often spoke at OWLS and Oregon Trial Lawyers Association seminars.

Clients and colleagues say Deveny always went the extra mile: She showed up for hospital visits, sent handwritten Christmas cards to clients, bought whole tables at fundraisers and mentored young lawyers.

"She was bright, hard-working, diligent," says Tim Grabe, a personal injury lawyer who served on an OTLA committee with Deveny more than a decade ago. "It was volunteer work. It's not as if everybody just does that."

Her legal specialty? Helping people who were at their most vulnerable: physically suffering, scared and intimidated by the insurance industry and legal system.

But last year, Deveny's carefully constructed façade began to fall apart.

On May 24, 2018, Oregon State Bar officials presented Deveny with a stark choice: surrender her law license immediately, or face disbarment. She quit.

A bar investigation revealed that for at least a decade, she'd been cheating her clients.

Twenty-six of them have filed claims in the past 14 months, accusing Deveny of stealing close to $2 million from them as they struggled through invasive surgeries, brain injuries and chronic pain.

Deveny did not respond to repeated requests for an interview with WW.  Her attorney, Wayne Mackeson, declined to comment, as did a number of former colleagues and associates. OWLS scrubbed her from its published list of past presidents, and current and past officers declined to speak to WW.

The accusations against Deveny illustrate how vulnerable people can be doubly victimized: first, injured in terrible accidents and, later, targeted by an unscrupulous attorney. Bar officials say the claims against Deveny are among the most egregious examples of a lawyer mistreating clients in Oregon history.

"This is an exceedingly dramatic case," says Kateri Walsh, spokeswoman for the Oregon State Bar, "and we are probably not done."

While Deveny was suspended and disbarred, she was still corresponding with some clients, documents show, continuing with business as usual. Bar officials ordered her to turn over all her client records, but they don't believe she has done so. Without complete records, the bar has no way of knowing whether she is still stringing along some former clients.

People who know Deveny well cannot believe the turn her life has taken.

"I was shocked," says Jodie Phillips Polich, her fellow lawyer and friend of nearly 30 years. "I have asked myself a zillion times, did I miss something? It still remains a complete mystery to me."

Jessie Hegwood had suffered a traumatic brain injury when she first met Lori Deveny.

In the early afternoon of May 25, 2016, Hegwood and her 2-year-old daughter were driving in their Toyota RAV4.

As they sat at the intersection of Southeast Powell Boulevard and 26th Avenue, a vehicle rammed into an SUV stopped behind Hegwood. The impact sent the SUV crashing into Hegwood's car and pushed the RAV4 halfway through the intersection. Her daughter was uninjured, but Hegwood suffered a brain injury.

Two and a half years later, she is still suffering. "I can't think my way out of a paper bag these days," she says.

Seeking compensation for her injuries, Hegwood, now 37, compiled a list of three potential lawyers. But she met Deveny first and looked no further.

Hegwood traveled to Deveny's downtown Portland office in October 2016. She remembers a desk stacked with papers—and the stuffed zebra standing to the right of the door.

With her shock of curly auburn hair and exuberant laugh, Deveny, now 53, made a strong first impression. She exuded success and dropped references to a lifestyle far more interesting than the average lawyer's: She was a big-game hunter, a motorcyclist and an accomplished poker player who traveled for tournaments.

"She was this over-the-top personality, just very self-assured," says Hegwood. "She was loud and she was in your face. She was also compassionate, or sounded compassionate. I guess that's her game."

But Hegwood's initial enthusiasm soon cooled. Deveny began ignoring phone calls and taking longer to respond. "She always had an excuse," Hegwood says. "She was waiting on information, or they'd made an offer and it wasn't enough."

The last time they spoke, Hegwood remembers Deveny saying they were only a week or two away from a settlement. "Well, I forgot about it, brain injury and all," Hegwood says. After that call in late 2017, months passed before Hegwood remembered Deveny's promises.

"Maybe she changed her phone number. I'll just double check that I've got the right one," Hegwood recalls thinking. She Googled Deveny's name last summer.

The first result that popped up: a June 27, 2018, Oregonian article reporting Deveny had surrendered her law license after stealing from clients.

Hegwood called GEICO, the insurance company against which she had a claim. "That's when I found out that more than a year prior, they had paid out $50,000," she says.

That money was meant for Hegwood. She never saw a penny of it.

"[Deveny] had lied to me. Straight-faced lied to me. The last three or four times I had spoken to her, her saying, 'We're really close,'" Hegwood says. "She'd already been paid."

Eventually, Hegwood was able to view a copy of the release for the $50,000 payment. "It wasn't my handwriting," Hegwood says. "She had forged my signature."

Margaret Medley, 72, was the first to file a bar complaint against Deveny. Medley hired Deveny in 2015 after she was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street in her electric wheelchair outside her McMinnville home.

In the beginning, Deveny "was always very upbeat," Medley says. But as Deveny became harder to reach, Medley contacted Medicare herself. She learned a settlement had already been issued. She contacted Deveny, who claimed a $14,000 settlement check had indeed been issued but there was more paperwork to complete.

Months later, still unpaid, Medley called the insurer who was supposed to pay her settlement. She learned Deveny had been withholding information—and the cash.

According to the insurance company, a check for $20,000—not $14,000—had been issued to Deveny. (When settlements are awarded to an injured party, such as Deveny's clients, the funds are deposited into a client trust account controlled by the attorney.) The funds should have already reached Medley.

She contacted the bar in November 2017. "I wanted her stopped from what she was doing," says Medley, "and I wanted my money."

After Deveny was suspended, she sent Medley a check for $10,000. "To me, it was bribery," Medley says. "She wanted to play nice."

Other former Deveny clients tell similar stories, but few ever saw their money.

Carol Brown, now 60, suffered spine injuries from being rear-ended in 2010. A year later, when she learned she would need surgery to replace a disk in her neck, she hired Deveny.

At first, Brown says, Deveny would call regularly to check in. That soon ended. Depositions were scheduled, rescheduled, and canceled. Paperwork moved slowly. Settlement negotiations stalled.

"All of this seemed logical to me, but it was just taking a lot of time," Brown recalls. "Every time I called, there was something else she was working on."

In early 2017, six years after she had been hired, Deveny told Brown the insurance company had agreed to a $40,000 settlement. But, Deveny claimed, there were more legal hurdles before Brown would see any money. For months, Deveny ignored Brown.

On Nov. 16, 2017, a frustrated Brown called State Farm Insurance to ask where her $40,000 was. The response: State Farm had issued a settlement to Brown's attorney six years earlier, on Nov. 30, 2011. And the check was not for $40,000 but $100,000.

"I couldn't even speak," Brown says. "I called my husband, who came and met me, because I was so hysterical and upset. I couldn't think or function."

Brown contacted the bar, becoming the second client to file a complaint against Deveny.

Aubrey Hunter had hired Deveny in 2007 after a vehicle on Oregon Route 6 near Banks veered into his lane and hit him head-on. That night, Deveny, who had represented Hunter in an earlier case, visited him in the hospital. She took his case and told him not to worry about anything.

Hunter sustained injuries that have required multiple surgeries and are still painful.

The good news: Hunter was awarded a $500,000 settlement in 2009 from the insurance company that represented the driver of the car that hit him. But, according to Hunter, Deveny told him red tape was delaying distribution.

Text messages between Deveny and Hunter capture years of a client's pleas and his attorney's dodges. "Any news?" Hunter asked in October 2015. "I'm just stressed. Don't mean to bug you."

Mostly, Deveny ignored him. When she did respond, one excuse followed another.

"I'm home with the flu," she wrote in April 2016. "My baby dog is having surgery today," she wrote in another text.

For two more years, Deveny spooled out a string of excuses. Deveny said she'd had emergency surgery, followed a week later by a car accident.

Hunter's family urged him to hire a new lawyer, but he trusted Deveny.

In July 2016, Deveny told Hunter she was heading to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. "Did well," she texted afterward. "Top 1/3 in big tourney. Final tabled in some on house tourneys."

The next week, Hunter offered to contact the insurance company himself.

"Don't you dare call them," Deveny responded. "They freak if they deal with normal people."

In June 2018, a friend showed Hunter the Oregonian article.

Now 49, Hunter has known Deveny for more than half his life. He referred friends to Deveny.

"I've recommended her to all these people," Hunter says. "How many of these people did she screw over?"

Deveny had given Hunter only $10,000 of his $500,000 settlement. Now, Hunter is hoping the bar's Client Security Fund will grant him the maximum award of $50,000. Lawyers Hunter talked to declined to help recover the rest of the settlement from Deveny, convinced Deveny had no assets.

As clients look back, they now see warnings in Deveny's behavior. But she was the expert: She came with recommendations and a résumé filled with prominent leadership roles. Clients who were traumatized and unfamiliar with the legal system trusted her. That made them easy targets.

Deveny refused to email or text clients like Hegwood, whose brain injury left her with an impaired memory and cognitive barriers. With other clients, Deveny was happy to text. But with Hegwood, who says she now has to write down everything because she won't remember it, Deveny would only communicate via telephone.

Erica Bentson and her sister hired Deveny in early 2014 to pursue a claim for the wrongful death of their mother.

Red flags, such as Deveny initially refusing to communicate via email "because she didn't want a paper trail" and having to be asked repeatedly to provide basic documents, now seem obvious to Bentson.

In October 2015, Deveny obtained a $100,000 settlement for Bentson. Then she claimed the money was tied up in a Medicare lien. Bentson found no evidence of any lien. The family still hasn't received any of the money.

The signs "were there. We just didn't pursue them," Bentson says. "We figured, who would steal from us?"

As investigators comb through Deveny's case files, Walsh, the bar's spokeswoman, says it still isn't clear when Deveny shifted from zealous representation of her clients to stealing from them.

The bar's disciplinary process is driven by written complaints. "We often first find out that there's a concern when we first receive a complaint," Walsh says. "Up until November 2017, we had never received a complaint [about Deveny]."

Three months after Margaret Medley filed the first complaint, Deveny's license was suspended. "It's quite unusual to suspend somebody that quickly," Walsh says, but the Oregon Supreme Court suspended Deveny in February 2018 after she ignored the bar's attempts to contact her.

Soon, two more bar complaints came in. By the end of summer, after Deveny had lost her license, a total of nine Client Security Fund claims had been filed. The total now is 26.

The CSF is an Oregon State Bar program that provides reimbursement of up to $50,000 to clients who lose money due to lawyer dishonesty.

As complaints mounted, Deveny's world unraveled. On March 12, 2018, her husband, Bob, fatally shot himself. (Deveny received an insurance settlement after her husband's death. With that money, she paid Carol Brown and one other client.) In July, she surrendered her bar license. In October, the bank foreclosed on the home the Devenys had shared for 15 years. In November, the first client filed a civil lawsuit against Deveny.

"She was an upstanding member of the legal community," says Grabe, the lawyer who served with her at OTLA. "And then it looks like she just fell off the deep end."

Deveny began selling off possessions, including the couple's Hummer. Weeks after her husband's death, neighbors say, a moving truck appeared outside her home and hauled away animal heads and skins.

Some people wonder whether her lifestyle and, specifically, poker losses might have dug the hole from which Deveny could not escape.

"There is reason to believe there may have been a gambling element to the conduct," Walsh says, citing comments Deveny made to clients and her presence on online poker sites.

Her friend Phillips Polich doubts that explanation. "She played poker for fun," Phillips Polich says, "not for money."

Though Deveny's legal career is finished, her troubles continue.

"I don't think the story is over," says one of Deveny's neighbors. "That's a lot of money to disappear."

As the Oregon State Bar sifts through records of 758 clients, it is sending letters to each one to alert them of Deveny's resignation. The letter from the bar to clients does not mention any allegations against Deveny.

Jeff Merrick, a Portland lawyer who has blogged about the accusations against Deveny, says the bar should be more aggressive. "Based on my conversations with people who are still trying to get their files from Lori Deveny," Merrick says, "the bar has not done enough to identify her former clients." Walsh disagrees, insisting the bar has been proactive.

The Portland Police Bureau, Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Attorney's Office have all contacted the bar about Deveny.

Jessie Hegwood is still waiting to see if the CSF will repay any of the $50,000 settlement Deveny never delivered.

As Hegwood tried to piece together what had actually happened with Deveny, she realized Deveny lives close to the school Hegwood's children attend. That drove home for her the personal nature of Deveny's betrayal.

"It was just that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach that someone in your community could just steal from you," says Hegwood. "We're not talking you drop 20 bucks and somebody picks it up. This is $50,000 from a family that is barely above low-income. It's just heartbreaking."

Lori Deveny's Highest Profile Client: Terry Bean's Alleged Victim

One of Lori Deveny's highest-profile cases was representing a teenage boy who police said was sexually assaulted by Terry Bean, a Portland real estate developer, Democratic Party fundraiser and founder of the LGBTQ rights organization the Human Rights Campaign.

In 2015, Bean was charged in Lane County with two counts of third-degree sodomy and one count of sexual abuse in the third degree, after he and another man allegedly had sex with the then-15-year-old boy.

Less than a month before Bean's trial was set to take place, Bean offered to pay the young man $220,000 in a civil compromise to the criminal charges. But Lane County Circuit Judge Charles M. Zennache rejected that settlement and ordered Bean to stand trial.

Then, Bean's alleged victim disappeared. Without the testimony of the victim, the case fell apart and was dismissed Sept. 1, 2015. Bean walked free.

Now, Bean's alleged victim is one of the 26 former clients who filed claims against Deveny. In a September 2018 complaint, the victim alleged that Deveny had not given him any of the $220,000 he was supposed to receive as compensation and had not responded to any of his attempts to contact her.

The young man could not be reached for comment.



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