Pubdate: Thu, 23 Jun 2011
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2011 The Mail Tribune
Author: Damian Mann, Mail Tribune


As Sheriff, County Consider Appeal, Costs Rise in Handgun License
Legal Dispute

Sheriff Mike Winters' efforts to prevent medical marijuana patients
from obtaining concealed handgun licenses has cost more than $13,000
in outside legal fees, plus the equivalent of $20,000 in time spent by
Jackson County's in-house attorney.

"That's almost unbelievable," said Cynthia Willis, a medical marijuana
patient who originally sought a concealed handgun license from the
sheriff. "It's so much money and such a waste."

The Mail Tribune filed a public records request on May 24 to discover
how much time and money has been spent on the case involving Winters
and Willis, a Gold Hill resident who has a clean criminal record but
who uses cannabis for muscle spasms and arthritis pain.

Willis, who has spent $3,000 for her own attorney's fees, has
prevailed at every court level against the sheriff, including the
Oregon Supreme Court in May.

The sheriff declined to comment on the legal expenses. Andrea Carlson,
spokeswoman for the sheriff, said, "The sheriff said the case is still
in process, and he doesn't want to make any comments at this time."

Winters and Jackson County commissioners are considering appealing the
case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Calls to the three county commissioners for comment were not

The sheriff initially denied Willis a concealed handgun license in
2008, citing the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibits anyone
who uses or is addicted to a controlled substance from having a firearm.

The sheriff discovered that Willis is a medical marijuana patient when
she filled out the application for a concealed handgun license. In
addition to the permit questions required to satisfy Oregon law,
Winters added his own questions, such as whether the applicant used
medical marijuana.

Oregon Revised Statute 166.291 has a list of requirements for
concealed weapons permit applicants, but doesn't specifically exclude
someone who uses drugs.

When Winters lost in the Oregon Court of Appeals, he issued a
concealed handgun license to Willis.

In its appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, the county argued the state
statute stands as an obstacle to enforcing federal law.

In 2008, the county hired the firm of Hornecker, Cowling, Hassen and
Hesell L.L.P of Medford to manage the case. The firm's attorneys spent
almost 80 hours on it and charged from $165 to $175 an hour.

Then in July 2010, the county switched to its own attorney, Ryan
Kirchoff, who had spent 202 hours as of March 3. The county's 2011-12
budget indicates that the billing rates of the county counsel's office
average about $100 an hour, which would amount to just over $20,250
for 202 hours.

The county counsel's $870,000 budget operates under a system of charge
backs to other county departments based on the usage by each department.

The sheriff previously spent about $44,000 in legal costs in
contesting a Mail Tribune request for access to concealed weapons
permits, which the newspaper maintained are public records. Local
courts and the state appeals court sided with the newspaper and the
county agreed in 2010 to make the records available.

In the Mail Tribune case, the county paid more than $20,000 to cover
the newspaper's legal expenses; it's possible it would have to pay
Willis' legal costs if it ultimately loses the case.

Attorney Leland Berger, who represents Willis, said the amount of
money Willis has sent to him doesn't reflect the time and energy he
has put into the case. He said wouldn't disclose how many hours he has
put into the case at this point.

If the county petitions the U.S. Supreme Court, Berger said, it would
be a further waste of taxpayer money.

"It's really enough already," he said.

Berger said the sheriff should instead ask the Legislature to change
the law, or bring an initiative before voters.

Lori Duckworth, executive director of the Southern Oregon chapter of
the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, or SONORML,
based in Medford said the sheriff would focus his attentions on the
many other issues law enforcement could be dealing with in Jackson

"I think the fact that the sheriff is blatantly thumbing his nose at
three Oregon courts shows a complete and utter waste of time," said
Duckworth, who also has a concealed handgun license, said. "It speaks
very loudly for his opinion about medical marijuana and the patients
who use it. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.