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Former attorney for Susan Monica faces possible disbarment

A member of the defense team for alleged serial killer Susan Monica has stepped down from the case in the wake of an Oregon State Bar investigation into a misdemeanor conviction that could end his legal career.

Zachary Wayne Light filed a motion for substitution of attorney Jan. 27 in Jackson County Circuit Court, saying Medford lawyer Garren Pedemonte would be stepping in.

While Light's filing didn't give a reason for his departure, Oregon State Bar spokesperson Kateri Walsh told the Mail Tribune that the OSB has opened an ethics investigation into Light's recent conduct. The investigation stems from Light's Oct. 3, 2014, misdemeanor conviction for invasion of personal privacy, which Light self-reported to the bar.

If the investigation finds sufficient evidence, Walsh said, the case will be referred to the State Professional Responsibility Board, which functions as a grand jury for potential disciplinary proceedings. Disciplinary options available to the OSB range from a formal reprimand to disbarment.

According to a charging document filed by Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert, Light secretly video-recorded a girl on or about March 1, 2014, while she was nude in an area where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Heckert says the victim was a minor whom Light secretly recorded while she was changing.

"It wasn't reported right away," Heckert said. "It was actually reported by a third party, which is what got police looking at this incident." 

Light was sentenced to five years' probation, ordered to avoid contact with the victim and undergo a sex offender treatment program, completion of which would reduce the term of probation to two years. He is also restricted from handling any cases involving child sexual abuse or child pornography, but is otherwise allowed to continue practicing law. 

Asked to compare Light's case with that of former youth pastor Donald Biggs, who faces both privacy-invasion and child pornography charges after police allegedly discovered a hidden camera in the bathroom of his home, Heckert said she couldn't get into the facts of Biggs' pending case but explained that there were several differences.

For one, Oregon's child pornography laws require that the victim be engaged in "sexually explicit" conduct on the recording for the defendant to be guilty of "use of a child in display of a sex act." Also complicating matters, she says, was the fact that investigators weren't able to recover the actual video from Light's camera, although Oregon State Police detectives were able to develop probable cause for the invasion-of-privacy charge.

"It was the only charge that applied," she said. 

Light, 39, had served as co-counsel in Monica's murder case alongside Christine Herbert. Monica, 60, is charged with two counts of murder, two counts of abuse of a corpse and identity theft stemming from a sheriff's investigation that turned up two bodies Jan. 10, 2014, on her rural property near Rogue River. Light also represented bank robber Bradley Monical during his January 2014 trial for escaping from the Jackson County Jail.

Attempts to reach Light for comment were unsuccessful.

Heckert said it's a "pretty rare occurrence" for county prosecutors to end up charging a local public defender with a crime. While prosecutors sometimes refer such cases to neighboring district attorney's offices, or to the state attorney general's office, Heckert said she didn't feel that was necessary in this case.

In a letter dated Jan. 28 denying a Mail Tribune request for OSP case files on Light, state police records supervisor Erin Redding said those files were restricted under state law because they contained "juvenile victim information." The Mail Tribune has appealed the agency's denial to the state Department of Justice, citing overriding public interest.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

(Note: Length of sentence and terms of probation corrected from previous version. Information about origin of bar investigation added for clarification.)