Portland Settles Lawsuit Over Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Text Messages for $167,000

The City of Portland has reached a settlement in a lawsuit, agreeing to pay nearly $167,000 to resolve allegations that Mayor Ted Wheeler and the city withheld thousands of text messages from a public records request. The lawsuit stemmed from an investigation by OPB, which revealed that Wheeler and other city officials had been using iMessage on their city-issued iPhones, a communication method that was not accessible through the city’s public records software. 

By using iMessage despite signing an agreement to refrain from doing so, Wheeler effectively shielded his communications from public scrutiny. Under the state public records law, government officials are required to preserve all written communication, including text messages and emails, generated in the course of their work. In most cases, these records must be provided to the public upon request. 

In July 2020, Michael Kessler, a computer programmer, submitted a records request for all text messages sent to and from Mayor Wheeler’s phone during a specific period, which included the evening of a racial justice protest where tear gas was deployed by federal officers. Kessler’s lawsuit alleged that the city withheld over 50 iMessages sent by Wheeler during those three days, accusing them of violating state records law and potentially destroying the messages.

Rather than going to trial, city attorneys negotiated a settlement agreement, which received unanimous approval from the city council. The agreement stipulates that the city will pay $166,893 to cover attorney’s fees and public records fees incurred by Kessler. In return, the city is absolved of any wrongdoing and avoids further legal proceedings.

While the settlement resolves the matter, it may not be the ideal outcome for Kessler. Represented by his brother, Portland lawyer Alan Kessler, he would have preferred to take the case to court, where the city could have been held responsible for the alleged violations. However, the decision to settle allows the city to avoid potential legal consequences and brings the lawsuit to a close.