One of Eugene’s leading land use attorneys is being accused of forging documents that snuck under the radar of Oregon law for over a decade.
Earlier this year, the Lane County Land Management Division was reviewing an application for a property along Parsons Creek Road, northwest of Marcola. Officials pulled neighboring deeds and noticed a series of discrepancies, such as mismatched dates and alterations of grantor and grantee information.
Farm and forest land use in Oregon is governed by land use laws passed in the 1960s and ’70s. The framework is that in order to have a dwelling on forest land, a person must have a legally designated parcel, lawfully established and divided. One exception to the rule is if a property was legally subdivided before the introduction of Oregon’s land use laws.
Members of nonprofit land-use group LandWatch Lane County allege the fraud dates back to a 2011 lot verification, and that it was done by Lane County land use attorney Kim O’Dea, an associate with the Law Office of Bill Kloos.
In 2011, O’Dea, a property owner along Parsons Creek Road, filed for a legal verifications of three lots within her land, claiming to have four deeds that existed before Oregon’s land use laws. This would allow the lot to be split into three sections. Lot verifications are an examination of how a lot of land was created. ‘
After the altered documents were discovered, the Lane County planning director ruled to revoke the lot verification of O’Dea’s land.
Lane County alleges O’Dea took existing deeds from other locations and doctored them in order to support the lot verification.
Lauri Segel, a land use researcher at LandWatch Lane County, says O’Dea changed several things on the deeds that played into the decision to uphold her proposed verification, which approved three developable lots within her property.
“She changed the dates of the conveyances, because some of the dates she altered had dates later than 1975, and she had to get them dated before 1975 in order for it to be a lawful division,” Segel alleges.
Grantors transfer the ownership of a property through conveyance documents to a grantee, who is the recipient of the property. Conveyance documents are simply deeds or contracts that transfer title or ownership of property from one person to another. The proposed verification was pushed through in 2011, granting O’Dea possession of the lots within her existing property.
More than 10 years later, Lane County Land Use revocation hearings began remotely March 31, and the county started to consider upholding the decision made by the planning director to revoke the lot verification. The appellant, O’Dea, is represented by Portland-based land use attorney Greg Hathaway.
The county consulted a local document examiner to analyze the deeds.
When asked about the allegations, O’Dea referred Eugene Weekly to Hathaway, who declined to comment on record. O’Dea and Hathaway don’t dispute that the deeds were fraudulent, but assert that she didn’t have anything to do with the doctoring and alteration of the deeds.
O’Dea’s defense takes three branches, one of which Segel says the hearings official, Anne Davies, seemed to discard in the first hearing.
In the March 31 hearing, Hathaway motioned that the county needs to prove O’Dea’s intent to submit forged information. O’Dea’s second argument is that the county is at fault, since fraudulent deeds shouldn’t have been allowed to pass through undetected.
According to Segel, Davies threw out the second argument, saying she would not entertain any blame shifting.
Following the county’s 2012 decision to uphold the lot verification, the divided lots were later sold to new owners. The altered documents have put these three property owners into a complex legal dilemma. “Given that these properties were created with fake deeds, I think the county is looking for a way to correct the error and recognize going forward that these properties are not lawfully established units of land,” says Andrew Mulkey, a rural lands attorney with 1000 Friends of Oregon.
According to Mulkey, the property owners will likely keep their dwellings and respective lots. Doing otherwise would create other new and unforeseen issues for the property owners.
However, the land owners are all represented by Hathaway. After EW attempted to contact the households for interviews, Hathaway said the property owners would not comment.
Mulkey says that building and selling could be complicated, and property values could drop, adding that a new buyer would need to be made aware that the unit of land wasn’t lawfully established.
While the hearing process will extend through the next few weeks, O’Dea faces complaints to the Oregon State Bar from Lane County and 1000 Friends of Oregon. Either of these complaints could result in suspension, probation or disbarment, according to the American Bar Association.