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Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, facing criminal investigation and possible action against his police certificate, Tuesday moved to set up a legal defense fund.
Such a fund, which requires state approval, would allow Palmer to take contributions for attorneys and other costs.
Palmer is the target of 10 complaints filed with the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. They accuse Palmer of violating standards for police officers in his dealings with self-described militia members. One complaint said his conduct put the safety of his rural county in jeopardy.
During the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Palmer gained adulation from some in the self-described militia and patriot movement for declaring that authorities would have to concede to some of the demands of the armed militants. Palmer also twice met with militants while the occupation was under way and was scheduled to speak at a John Day community meeting where occupation leader Ammon Bundy and others were to appear.
Palmer, who is paid $71,232 a year, has repeatedly declined interview requests, stating he would not address questions from The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The licensing agency has determined the allegations, if proven, could violate those standards. The state Justice Department last month opened a criminal investigation into one complaint, but hasn’t identified the complaint or the conduct under investigation. The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training said it won’t conduct its administrative review of Palmer until the criminal investigation is completed.
Palmer has not responded to the complaints, agency officials said.
The agency can take action up to revoking Palmer’s certification, which he is required to have to serve as sheriff. He is seeking re-election, and state officials said it’s unclear what would happen if Palmer is elected and then loses his certificate. He is being challenged by Todd McKinley, former undersheriff in Palmer’s administration who now is director of Grant County Community Corrections.
Palmer, 54, sheriff since November 2000, applied Tuesday to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission for authority to open the Glenn E. Palmer Legal Expense Trust Fund.
In an affidavit, Palmer said the defense fund was needed because of the state investigations. He said that besides paying legal fees, he wanted the trust to have authority to spend money on fund raising and promoting the defense fund.
The Ethics Commission will consider his application Friday, April 8. The commission approved two such funds in 2015 – one for Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day, who faced allegations of judicial misconduct, and Lincoln City Mayor Don Williams, who faced ethics allegations subsequently dismissed by the ethics commission.
Palmer submitted the application five days after The Oregonian/OregonLive questioned his attorneys about a defense fund being promoted on social media and using the law firm as the place for donations.
In a Facebook post to a page supporting the sheriff, donors were advised to make their contribution by check to the Hostetter Law Group of Enterprise. The post provided the law firm’s address for mailing donations and said the money would go into the law firm’s client trust account.
No permission had been sought from the state for a defense fund until Tuesday, ethics commission officials confirmed. State law sets out conditions under which public officials can have such funds, including the requirement that a separate bank account be established and maintained by the trust.
Ben Boyd and Zachary Hostetter, attorneys in the Enterprise law firm representing the sheriff, didn’t respond to questions about what role the firm had in the social media posting. Hostetter said in a single-sentence statement Monday that contributions had been offered but none would be accepted until the ethics commission acted.
The application filed Tuesday identified Jodie Fleck of Post as the proposed trustee to manage the fund. A repeat candidate for Crook County commissioner, Fleck didn’t respond to questions about her role in the fund. She also didn’t answer questions about the original social media post, but took to the same Facebook page after The Oregonian/OregonLive questioned Palmer’s lawyers about the defense fund as promoted on social media.
“Regarding the legal donation fund, I got the cart before the horse. Please if you share the post, remove it,” she said in a Facebook post Friday.
Fleck worked as a volunteer in Palmer’s office last summer during the Canyon Creek Complex wildfire, mapping destroyed and damaged homes. Palmer later sought payment for her from the Grant County Court, which turned down the request.