Ex-Gov. Kate Brown must give deposition in case alleging ‘indifference’ to state

Former Gov. Kate Brown will be compelled to answer questions in a deposition as part of a pending case that alleges she and the state failed to protect Oregon prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The ruling will make her the first Oregon governor, either current or former, to be deposed in a civil case, according to attorney Anit K. Jindal, who argued on behalf of the state.

A class-action suit accuses Brown and other state officials of acting with “deliberate indifference” to the health and safety of inmates during the pandemic. A trial is set to start July 2024.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman said the deposition can last no longer than two hours.

“A two-hour deposition in this certified class action is not too much to ask of a former elected official,” Beckerman wrote in her ruling.

She found that Brown was “personally involved in making relevant decisions” regarding the Oregon Department of Correction’s response to COVID-19 in the state’s prisons.

Those suing the state convinced her that Brown’s testimony “is necessary to prove their case, in particular their deliberate indifference claims against her,” Beckerman wrote.

Lawyers for the state and Brown had objected to any deposition of the former governor.

They argued that high-ranking government officials such as Brown are protected from depositions unless “extraordinary circumstances” justify the testimony. That bar hadn’t been met, they said. Further, Jindal argued that deposing a governor would have a “chilling effect” on others who may be considering seeking public office and don’t want to become “mired in litigation.”

The judge found otherwise.

“Plaintiffs have established that Governor Brown’s testimony is both relevant and necessary, and therefore essential, to proving their claims,” Beckerman wrote.

While the deposition privilege is “important to protect high-ranking government officials from harassment, distraction, or burden” during the ” demanding duties of their office,” now that Brown has left office, a brief deposition is less burdensome and won’t impede her official duties, Beckerman concluded.

Further, the judge pointed out that the case is brought by a ”certified class of thousands” of people who were infected with COVID-19 while in state custody, including the estates of dozens of prisoners who died. The potential damages class in the suit consists of more than 3,600 adults in custody who were infected with COVID-19 while in state prison and 45 prisoners who died as a result of COVID-19, according to court records.

Beckerman found it “unlikely” that a gubernatorial candidate would be discouraged from seeking public office with knowledge that she might be required to sit for a brief deposition ordered upon leaving office. Further, she wrote, there was nothing in the record that suggested Brown is reemployed nor that any other duties would interfere with her ability to be deposed.

The plaintiffs seek to ask Brown about her knowledge of the state’s actions regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Oregon’s prisons while she served as governor, the judge wrote.

Their suit alleges…

Read More: Ex-Gov. Kate Brown must give deposition in case alleging ‘indifference’ to state

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