Oregon's consumer chief a former corporate defense lawyer

Oregon Department of Justice building

John Kroger (D)

Bill Lunch

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-The top consumer advocate in the Oregon attorney general's office spent years on the other side of legal aisle, defending companies against consumer claims, before becoming charged with pursuing nefarious businesses and flim-flam artists in the Beaver State.

Keith Dubanevich was tapped by first-term Attorney General John Kroger, a Democrat, in January to lead the noted Oregon Department of Justice's consumer protection division.

In an interview with Legal Newsline on Monday, Dubanevich said his experience as a corporate defense lawyer and business-to-business litigator gives him added insight for resolving consumer issues.

"I've always had a tremendous interest in consumer affairs," he said Monday. "The average businessman is also a consumer," he added, noting that it was something of a switch for him to go from one side of the bar to the other. "This is not consumers versus us."

"What's a good, safe product is good for everyone. The rules out there are good for everyone - for businesses and the consumer," he said. "So, if everybody simply follows the rules then we're all better off."

He said the attorney general's office has sought to make it easier for consumers to file complaints against companies for alleged wrongdoing.

"We are doing everything we can" for consumers to file complaints, he said.

In 2009, the office has seen an increase in the number of consumer complaints directed at debt collectors and credit card companies, he said.

Also on the upswing, he said, are complaints related to telecommunications contracts involving cellular service providers and cable and satellite television companies -- specifically, complaints about automatically renewing contracts or early termination fees.

"We always get our run of the mill complaints about Internet scams, and we are seeing an uptick in home foreclosure scams," Dubanevich said.

Kroger's office is considering posting consumer complaints on the Internet, following a very limited number of other states that post the information, he said.

"While most of the information is the public record it's not generally available online," Dubanevich said. "Our goal is to have more information available about the complaints we do receive, and our goal is to have it available early next year."

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

Kroger, who had never before held public office, was elected in November to succeed fellow Democrat Hardy Myers, who retired after leading the Oregon Department of Justice for three terms, from 1997 to 2009.

Among other things, Kroger, a law school professor and former federal prosecutor, campaigned vowing to protect consumers' rights and the Beaver State's rich environmental resources.

Speaking to Legal Newsline, Oregon State University political science Professor Bill Lunch said it is "a bit unusual" for a former corporate defense lawyer to serve as an attorney general's consumer protection chief.

Lunch said Kroger is charting a different course for the AG's office than did his predecessor.

"The prior attorney general was very much a low-key, low-profile political figure who thought that the affairs of the office were best handled among other lawyers and judges and sometimes he filed cases that would get some level of public attention but he did not see the necessity for the office to be as public as the current attorney general does," Lunch said.

Through his consumer protection and other legal efforts Kroger could be positioning him for a subsequent run for higher office much like former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer parlayed his reputation for pursuing Wall Street scofflaws into a successful run for governor.

"This is a guy who is doing what he can in a relatively quick way to raise the visibility of the (attorney general's) office," Lunch said of Kroger. "Oftentimes the office is a springboard for higher office."

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

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