During the April 12 Union County candidate forum, current District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel and her opposing candidate, Laura Eckstein, were asked a number of questions pertaining to their practicing experience.
One of the questions asked by a community member was if either candidate have ever had any bar complaints or have been disciplined by the bar. McDaniel responded that she had had two complaints, but both were from defendants who were in prison, and that she had never been disciplined by the Oregon Bar Association. Eckstein said that while practicing civil and criminal law in Arizona, there had been a bar complaint regarding a bookkeeping issue that had been resolved satisfactorily.
McDaniel reiterated to The Observer after the forum that she has never been disciplined by the bar.
“The only complaints I have ever received both came from defendants, and both were unfounded and without merit,” McDaniel wrote in an email to The Observer
The Observer wrote to the Oregon Bar Association and confirmed McDaniel’s statement — neither complaint made it past the screening portion of the complaint process.
Records filed by the State Bar of Arizona show that in December 2011 Eckstein’s office had overdrawn nine clients’ trust accounts. The record states that “(Eckstein’s) office procedures did not fully comply with the (Arizona Bar Association) rules regarding proper trust account maintenance and she did not keep adequate records. As a result, errors occurred, leading to the overdraft.”
“I’ve never minimized or hidden this in anyway,” Eckstein told The Observer. “I fully own it.”
The Arizona Bar records concur that “(Eckstein) accepted full responsibility for the errors and has also undertaken great efforts to account for and correct the errors and implement procedures that will ensure the errors will not recur.”
“We get held accountable for what we do, no more no less. That’s the idea of justice,” Eckstein said, adding that she was “mortified” but “I went to (the Arizona Bar Association) and it was resolved immediately.”
The Arizona Bar Association placed Eckstein on a two-year probation — which did not prohibit her from practicing law — and ordered her to attend a Law Office Management Assistance program and a Trust Account Ethics Enhancement program.
“I did not have sufficient procedures in place. They don’t teach you that in law school,” Eckstein said. “I was sitting in the (bar-ordered classes) thinking this should be mandatory for everybody. I know it made me a better lawyer.”
She said that it wasn’t a punishment that the bar doled out, but rather a corrective measure.
Additionally, it didn’t affect her current cases or her efforts as a practicing lawyer.
“I asked the (Arizona Bar official who) was assigned to my case if I (needed to) take myself off of trust accounts,” Eckstein told The Observer.
Eckstein said the official told her she was now more qualified to be on a trust account because of the training ordered by the bar.
“I didn’t miss a beat,” recalled Eckstein, who has 19 years of practicing experience in Utah and Arizona under her belt. “There was no restriction on my license or practicing.”
She added that she had just partnered with another lawyer in Arizona, and he wasn’t concerned about the disciplinary actions or her being on a two-year probationary period.
“He didn’t even blink,” she said. “It’s not about what happens — it’s about how you respond to it.”
While relocating to Eastern Oregon in 2013, Eckstein continued her private practice in Arizona. She received her license from the Oregon Bar Association in February of this year.
“You don’t have to have your license in Oregon to be a judge, (and) I wasn’t representing clients (in Oregon),” explained Eckstein, who was sworn in as Elgin’s municipal judge in 2017.
“When I did get (my license), I fully disclosed (the disciplinary action), as I was required to,” she said. “(The Oregon bar checked) with Arizona, and they looked at those records. They didn’t even blink, they didn’t ask follow up questions, they didn’t ask for an explanation. If anyone had a legitimate (problem) I would not only be in jail, I would be disbarred,” she said. “(The Oregon bar) never called into question my character, my honesty or my ability to practice law.”
Eckstein said that the current election is not about her defending herself or past issues that have been resolved.
“I brought up (the accounting issue) to (my supporters) from day one. I think it’s totally fair game to ask about it, but I don’t think it effects me as a lawyer or a DA,” Eckstein said. “We need to stick to the actual issues and the facts.”