State can pay Cover Oregon officials' legal bills

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The state of Oregon may pick up legal bills for current and former employees who face a criminal investigation over the failure of the state's health insurance enrollment website, Cover Oregon.

The state policy on legal fees was recently updated to say that both current and former employees are eligible to have their legal fees covered if the actions under investigation were related to their job, said Matt Shelby, a spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services. He said the new policy also will allow the state to recover its costs if the employee is convicted or pleads guilty to a crime.

The changes are dated May 23 and were released to the media late Friday.

Gov. John Kitzhaber's office revealed last month that a federal grand jury has issued a subpoena for records related to the botched health insurance website, which never worked, and the millions spent on building the technology.

The state's policy on legal fees says it can pay the legal fees for an employee facing an investigation, indictment or subpoena in a criminal case, up to $35,000 for a felony or $15,000 for a misdemeanor. The employee can select his or her own attorney.

Employees must have their agency apply to a review panel that includes the attorney general, the director of their agency and administrators from the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees the state's risk management efforts. The review panel decides whether covering the employee's legal fees "is in the best interest of the state and its operations."

No employees have filed a request for legal bills to be covered, Shelby said.

Shelby said the policy changes related to criminal investigations bring it in line with the policy for legal fees related to tort claims.