In Short

Lawsuit lingers as Salinas prepares to be sworn into Congress

By: - January 3, 2023 3:27 pm

U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas of Oregon co-founded a new rural health caucus in Congress. (Courtesy of Salinas campaign)

As Andrea Salinas prepares to take office as one of Oregon’s first two Latina congresswomen, a lawsuit filed by the Republican she defeated in November is still working its way through Oregon courts. 

Salinas and Oregon’s other new members of Congress, Democrat Val Hoyle of Eugene and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Happy Valley, cannot be sworn in until the U.S. House selects its next speaker. The House adjourned for the day Tuesday without a speaker after Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California failed three times to capture enough votes. 

Mike Erickson, the Republican logistics consultant who narrowly lost to Salinas in November, initially sought to block her from taking office with a lawsuit over a negative campaign ad. He sued under a state law that allows a judge to set aside election results if the judge determines that a false statement by the victor swayed voters enough to change the election’s outcome. 

During a December hearing, Erickson indicated through his attorney that he didn’t wish to overturn the election results, but he’s still seeking hundreds of thousands in damages because of Salinas campaign ads that said he was charged with drug possession. 

Erickson was arrested for driving under the influence in 2016, and he later had those charges dismissed after pleading guilty and completing a one-year diversion program. While he was being booked into jail on the DUI charge, officers found an unprescribed Oxycodone pill in his wallet and recommended drug charges, though prosecutors didn’t file any. Salinas’s lawyers have cited police paperwork that refers to drug charges, though prosecutors, not police, file criminal charges. 

Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Todd Van Rysselberghe in December rejected an attempt by Salinas to strike the case under Oregon’s anti-SLAPP law. SLAPP, an acronym for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” refers to lawsuits that are intended to silence criticism and stifle free speech. 

In his ruling, Van Rysselberghe said it appeared likely that Erickson would be able to prove that Salinas made a false statement in the campaign ad and acted with knowledge or a reckless disregard for the truth by continuing to run the ad after both Erickson’s attorney and a prosecutor told her campaign it was false. 

Salinas appealed Van Rysselberghe’s ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which is waiting on transcripts, according to court records. That appeal means the case is paused, and a trial initially scheduled for the week before Christmas was canceled. 

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.