UPDATE OCT. 12: This story has been updated to correctly state that the Oregon State Bar had made accusations against Gary Bertoni for alleged wrongdoing between 2015 to 2019.
Gary Bertoni, who for many years made frequent appearances in Portland courtrooms while representing some of Multnomah County’s high profile defendants, has surrendered his law license in Oregon amid a swirl of criminal and administrative allegations — including that he stole client money.
The Oregon Supreme Court on Sept. 30 accepted Bertoni’s “Form B” resignation, ending a law career that started in Oregon 42 years ago and showed no public signs of trouble until Bertoni had reached his early 60s.
Bertoni, now 69, didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story. He is now living in Arizona, according to his resignation letter.
At the height of his law career, Bertoni once had approximately 15 employees at his Portland area law firm. He represented some of Oregon’s youngest defendants who were facing some of the most serious crimes, among others: A 15-year-old boy who bludgeoned a 71-year-old man bloody and unconscious at a Gresham MAX stop; a 16-year-old who shot to death a 17-year-old who was returning home from saying good-bye to his dying mother at OHSU; and a drunken driver with a 22-year history of alcohol-fueled arrests who killed a woman after T-boning her car.
But Bertoni clearly became engulfed in financial problems. In 2012, his license was suspended for 150 days after the Oregon State Bar accused him of taking for his own personal use as much as $44,000 that had been set aside for clients’ defense expenses. He later returned it, the bar said. The bar wasn’t able to prove that Bertoni used the money for personal use, but Bertoni signed an agreement with the bar that referred to the inappropriate movement of money and incomplete record-keeping.
In August 2018, Bertoni was sentenced in federal court to five years of probation, three months of weekend home detention and 500 hours of community service for failing to pay employment taxes. He also was ordered to pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $181,000. The government had alleged that Bertoni had used the money for personal enrichment, but Bertoni’s defense attorney argued that Bertoni had made poor investments and disputed any contention that Bertoni had lived extravagantly.
In September 2018, Bertoni again was suspended from practicing law, this time for 18 months after the state Supreme Court cited “a pattern of disregard for the interests of his clients.” That included improperly holding onto client funds and failing to keep clients informed.
This past July, Bertoni acknowledged accusations the Oregon State Bar had made against him for wrongdoing from 2015 to 2019 as part of a signed document agreeing to relinquish his law license. Among those accusations was that Bertoni used $2,500 for his personal use even though a criminal defendant had given the money to him to go toward restitution as part of a plea deal.
After a series of delays, he used money being held for a second client’s legal expenses to pay off the restitution for the first client, the high court alleged. When the second client’s legal case concluded and he asked for his $5,000, he had to complain to the bar and then wait for Bertoni to pay him back in three payments spread out over seven months, the Supreme Court alleged.
Last month, Bertoni was indicted in Multnomah County Circuit Court on accusations of aggravated first-degree theft from a former client. That client had been charged with aggravated theft for allegedly forging a check to steal from a road paving company.
According to Supreme Court documents, Bertoni kept for his own use $25,000 in restitution his client gave him — money that was supposed to pay back the paving company for the stolen funds and that would have lopped off 10 months from a 28-month prison sentence his client was facing, as part of an agreement worked out with the prosecution.
The Multnomah County criminal case against Bertoni is still pending.
— Aimee Green; firstname.lastname@example.org; @o_aimee
Reporter Maxine Bernstein contributed to this story.