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Orf denies unethical behavior in crash probe

Criminal defense attorney David Orf has denied all allegations that he behaved unethically during the police investigation of last year's fatal crash caused by Ashland teen Kevan Thatcher-Stephens.

The Oregon State Bar could investigate Orf's conduct based on a complaint lodged with the association in February by Medford Deputy Police Chief Randy Schoen. No decision had been made in the case since Orf filed his response and Schoen sent a supplementary letter to the bar last week, said Scott Morrill, assistant general counsel.

Neither Orf nor his wife, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Orf, ever told Ashland High School students not to speak with police about events leading up to the Feb. 11, 2005, crash, according to the Orfs' Portland attorney Bradley Tellam. David Orf did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Police reports released in July indicate the Orfs resisted working with police attempting to determine the whereabouts of Thatcher-Stephens before his Jeep Cherokee collided in Medford with a Chevrolet Blazer driven by Charles Ashley Bench of Shady Cove. Both Thatcher-Stephens, 17, and Bench, 26, were killed.

Some witnesses placed Thatcher-Stephens, who was driving drunk, at the Orfs' Ashland home several times in the week leading up to the wreck. The Orfs were out of the country while their son Drew, then 17, entertained friends.

— The Orfs did not then, nor do they now, have any information that their son furnished alcohol to Mr. Thatcher-Stephens the day of the accident or that Mr. Thatcher-Stephens had been drinking at their home prior to the accident, Tellam wrote on David Orf's behalf.

A party at the Orf house on Feb. 11 coincided with Drew's completion of juvenile probation for delivering a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school, as indicated by Josephine County Circuit Court records. The case was transferred from Jackson County.

But police never established whether Thatcher-Stephens was at the Orf home the night of the crash or how he obtained alcohol. The families of Bench and his passenger, Mark Robustelli, who suffered severe injuries in the crash, are suing the teen's estate for &

36;8 million. A trial is scheduled for February.

After detectives expressed their frustration with the investigation's dead-end, Schoen complained to the bar. He specifically cited the bar's prohibitions against attorneys engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice and against providing services to clients involved in a criminal investigation while knowingly having possible family involvement along with possible financial, property and personal interests in the investigation's outcome.

Tellam stated in his letter to the bar that David Orf never represented anyone police interviewed in the case. However, he provided no account of Orf's conversations with the housekeeper, Lisa Groover, who was hired to stay with Drew, because she believed she was speaking to Orf in the context of a privileged communication.

Police contend that Orf claimed to represent Groover when he testified before a grand jury in April last year. The Orfs initially would not give police Groover's name, Schoen said. And when investigators uncovered her identity two months later, she said she had wanted to talk to police but that David Orf told her she should have an attorney, the deputy chief wrote.

Several Ashland High School students also said they should not talk to police upon the advice of an attorney, believed to be Orf, Schoen's letter states. Tellam wrote that Orf was returning a phone call to Jamin Burchard when the teen was about to begin an interview with Ashland police detective Brent Jensen. After taking the call, Burchard refused to give Jensen a statement.

But Orf told Burchard that a person is not required to speak to police but, if they do, must tell the truth, Tellam wrote. If officers advised Burchard of his rights or would not allow him to leave, Orf said, the teen should ask to speak to an attorney.

Mr. Orf's actions, under these trying circumstances, display the very epitome of a lawyer's role in our system of justice, Tellam wrote.

Morrill said, in the absence of requesting more information from Orf and Schoen, he could conduct his own investigation, dismiss the complaint or send it to the bar's disciplinary counsel. If guilty of violations, Orf could face a public reprimand, license suspension or disbarment.

Schoen also lodged a complaint against Judge Orf with the state's Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability. The commission has requested information on David Orf from the bar, said spokeswoman Kateri Walsh. But unlike David Orf's, the complaint is not public information.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail Orf denies unethical behavior in crash probe"slemon@mailtribune.com.