Oregon AG-elect's appointments draw attention

Chris Rizo Dec. 12, 2008, 1:00pm

John Kroger (D)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon's attorney general-elect is poised to join the list of the nation's activist attorneys general, political observers told Legal Newsline.

Attorney General-elect John Kroger -- who campaigned promising to be more aggressive than his predecessor, fellow Democrat Hardy Myers, in the pursuit of polluters and nefarious businesses --- has made three key appointments to help him lead the Oregon Department of Justice.

"It seems clear to me that Kroger is very serious about using the laws of the state aggressively against people who pollute or who do things that are contrary to environmental laws," Oregon State University political science Professor Bill Lunch said.

Among Kroger's first appointments was that of Brent Foster, the executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper and a staunch opponent of liquefied natural gas terminals in Oregon.

"The appointment is completely consistent with what Kroger said through the campaign, that he was going to be an aggressive enforcer of Oregon's environmental laws," said Jonathan Poisner, executive director of Oregon League of Conservation Voters.

"Hardy Myers was an excellent attorney general, but enforcement of environmental laws was not at the top of his priority list," Poisner added. "John Kroger campaigned on a platform that placed enforcement of environmental laws high on his list, and we fully expect him to live up to that promise."

Also appointed recently were lawyers Margaret Olney to oversee elections-law reforms enacted in 2007, and Keith Dubanevich was tapped to serve as special counsel to oversee civil rights and consumer protection.

Olney has litigated election issues on behalf of groups such as the Service Employees International Union and the Oregon Education Association, both of which were big campaign contributors to Kroger.

"Kroger has very close links to unions, and that runs back to the (Democratic) primary," Lunch said. "Olney's appointment is another reflection of the strength of the unions on the Democratic side."

Dubanevich is a partner at the Garvey Schubert Barer law firm, where he litigates product liability and construction cases.

Through his appointments Kroger, a law school professor and former federal prosecutor, could be freeing himself up to take a high-profile role in litigating such things as political corruption and environmental cases.

"If Kroger does that he will certainly have a much higher public profile than Hardy Myers has had," Lunch said.

Kroger, he added, could possibly be positioning him for a subsequent run for higher office much like former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer parlayed his notoriety for pursuing Wall Street scofflaws into a successful run for governor.

"There is a track record in American politics of some state attorneys general becoming major public figures from the cases they pursue," Lunch said. "That is certainly possible for Kroger, but that was not how Hardy Myers ran the office."

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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