The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday, Sept. 24, that Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley did not lose his office following a 60-day suspension from the Oregon Bar Association and should have immediately been returned to office following his suspension and reinstatement to the bar, which took place April 15.
The same court had upheld the suspension itself in December 2019, but issued no guidance on what would occur after the suspension ended.
The Oregon Attorney General’s Office had argued that the office had become vacant at the point of his suspension, and assigned a representative from the AG’s office, who has been Acting District Attorney. Nisley’s lawyer noted Nisley was not the first district attorney to be suspended while in office and that, in earlier cases, no vacancy in the office of district attorney had been declared. Instead, those suspended had resumed all district attorney duties at the end of the suspension period.
Today’s 18-page decision affirms Nisley as the validly elected Wasco County District Attorney.
“We are persuaded that respondent’s brief and transient inability to practice law was not what the legislature intended to describe with the phrase “ceases to possess” a qualification for holding office. Accordingly, the office of Wasco County District Attorney did not become “vacant” and respondent remains the rightful holder of the office until the expiration of his term of office,” the decision states.
That expiration will take place in January, when Matthew Ellis, who was elected DA in the May 19 primary, will take office for the next four-year term.
Nisley was back in the District Attorney’s office at the Wasco County Courthouse Thursday.
Nisley issued the following statement:
“I look forward to finishing my term as District Attorney. I also pledge to do what I can to make the transition in the office as smooth as possible. I have reached out to Mr. Ellis and we have had some preliminary discussions about what that might look like and I am sure we will have more discussions in the near future. I feel it is important to look past politics and work towards what is best for all the people of Wasco County and the State of Oregon. “
Wasco County Commission Chair Scott Hege responded. “This has been an issue for the courts, and the courts have acted. That’s what they do. I have no issue with that.”