Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Judge rules that Johnson attorney overcharged county at least $42,000

Express Staff Writer

Bob Pangburn, the attorney for convicted Bellevue murderer Sarah Johnson, overcharged Blaine County by more than $42,000, according to a ruling from 5th District Administrative Judge Barry Wood.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said Wood rendered his decision in mid-March and Pangburn has 30 days to repay the amount. Thomas said his office is "looking at our legal options" if Pangburn fails to repay the amount by the deadline.

"Judge Wood ruled that (Pangburn) actually owed us a little over $55,000," Thomas said. "But (Pangburn) was able to offset that with some legitimate billing he owed and that left us with a balance of a little over $42,000."

Pangburn was appointed to serve as defense counsel for Johnson, who was convicted last year of killing her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, in their Bellevue home in 2003.

Thomas said the amount Pangburn owes the county could rise more.

"There's an additional $10,000 to $20,000 he will have to refund based on the fact he billed us for work performed by one of his associates," Thomas said. "We're having a hard time getting the documentation on Pangburn from that. It's pending,"

All of the reimbursed money will be placed back into the county's general fund.

The overcharge was discovered in June 2005 when the plaintiffs were first allowed to review the defense counsel's invoices.

Thomas said Pangburn, who operates out of Boise, claimed the county owed him $130 per hour instead of the $65 per hour specified in a public defender contract.

"Judge Wood said, 'No, it's $65 an hour,'" Thomas said.

This is not the first time Pangburn's conduct has come under fire.

He resigned from the Oregon State Bar in September 2004 while disciplinary matters were pending against him. According to state bar records, Pangburn was accused of "multiple violations of the disciplinary rules involving multiple client matters." Those included "dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation, including conversion of client funds," "illegal or excessive fees," and "failing to deposit and maintain client funds in trust."

Kateri Walsh, the Oregon bar's community relations administrator, called the Form B resignation "the functional equivalent of being disbarred."

According to the bar's records, Pangburn had 42 complaints in his file. Twenty-nine of those had been dismissed, one had resulted in an admonishment (the lowest form of discipline), one in a public reprimand, and the other 11 were consolidated in the case that resulted in his resignation.

In June 2001, Pangburn received a public reprimand from the Idaho State Bar for several violations of the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct.

To date, the county has spent $1.6 million on the Johnson case, according to Thomas.

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