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Bar recommends suspension of Kirchoff's license

Phoenix's city attorney, considered a top candidate for the town's vacant city manager position, has appealed an Oregon State Bar ruling that his conduct in a divorce case demonstrated a lack of understanding and appreciation of the profession’s ethical responsibilities and regulations.

The bar recommended a two-year suspension of his license.

J. Ryan Kirchoff, who has a law practice in Grants Pass and works on a contract basis for Phoenix, was found by a bar trial panel to have falsified a document that he submitted to Josephine County Circuit Court when he sought to vacate a ruling in a divorce proceeding.

Kirchoff appealed the June 14 ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court, and briefs are due in the case Oct. 20. Kirchoff is allowed to continue to practice law until the court rules, said Kateri Walsh, Oregon State Bar media relations director.

Mayor Jeff Bellah said at Monday’s City Council meeting that the city would like to look at a few more candidates for the city manager spot after it considered information supplied through background checks on Kirchoff, who has represented Phoenix for three years.

The council met in executive sessions Friday and Monday prior to the regular meeting. After Friday’s meeting, Bellah said the group was doing a through background check on Kirchoff, then considered the tentative choice.

“We are going to see who the League of Oregon Cities has and if the head-hunter groups have a couple talented candidates,” said Bellah. “I think we feel a need to hopefully make a decision by Election Day (Nov. 8). We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next few weeks.”

Former City Manager Steve Dahl was terminated in May, and planner Matt Brinkley has filled the post on an interim basis. Brinkley is one of two finalists remaining from an original selection of four. Brinkley and Kirchoff remain under consideration for the post, said Bellah.

In January 2014, Kirchoff was retained to represent a husband in a divorce proceeding. Kirchoff filed a motion to vacate a default judgment and supporting declarations, but did not attach a written notice of intent to appear as an exhibit to the motion, a requirement of law.

Kirchoff subsequently supplied the document, but its authenticity was questioned by Brett Claar, attorney for the wife, who said the email “may have been fabricated.”

The Oregon State Bar filed its first amended formal complaint against Kirchoff on July 21, 2015. The trial panel heard arguments Feb. 18 and 19 this year.

The bar trial panel concluded that there is “clear and convincing evidence … that the accused printed this document and submitted it to the court, to counsel, the Oregon State Bar, and now the trial panel, when the accused knew … this document did not exist, digitally, on paper or in any form on the day he testified he sent it.”

Expert witnesses both for the state bar and for Kirchoff said the document could not have been sent as an email. Claar was unable to locate the document in his inbox, deleted folder or spam files.

“It’s in litigation and on appeal, and I can’t comment while the proceedings are pending,” said Kirchoff.

Kirchoff was taken into custody March 5 on a misdemeanor trespassing charge in Grants Pass, although the case was later dismissed. According to the arresting officer’s report, Kirchoff was escorted off St. Anne’s Church property by law enforcement after causing a disturbance. A few minutes later, he was found on the property in his vehicle and taken into custody, according to the report.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.