Legislator steps into Pierce County legal fight

A state legislator who hopes to become Pierce County's next executive wants to rewrite state law to address legal hassles like the one involving the current executive. Sen. Bruce Dammeier said legislation he will introduce in the 2016 session of the Legislature that begins Jan. 11 would clear up a dispute that has prompted the county to sue itself. He said his proposal would allow county officials in Washington to seek help from the state attorney general when they have a problem with their county's prosecutor. Dammeier said the measure, if passed by the Legislature, would apply to cases in which a county prosecutor is accused of wrongdoing or ethical violations, including conflicts of interest. It stems from a conflict between Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy office and Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist. Currently, state law provides broad authority for elected county prosecutors to serve as legal advisors to their counties. Dammeier proposes allow counties' legislative bodies, such as the Pierce County Council, to ask the attorney general to review a case when a prosecutor is suspected of misconduct. Under the change sought by Dammeier, the attorney general would determine if a special prosecutor is warranted. In those cases, the county legislative authority would be allowed to hire an independent attorney or contract with the attorney general's office for representation. Lindquist has objected to a state Supreme Court order to disclose text messages from his personal cell phone that might have a bearing on ongoing litigation against the county. McCarthy has asked Lindquist to step aside from his legal-advisor role and appoint an independent prosecutor to handle the matter. Lindquist has refused, putting him at odds with McCarthy and county government in court arguments. "Right now we have Pierce County going to court to sue Pierce County GÇô and that's not good for our citizens,GÇ¥ Dammeier explained. "The best thing we can do is to learn from the situation and devise a solution that will work for every county in the state.GÇ¥ Dammeier, a Republican whose legislative district includes the South Hill and Puyallup areas, announced his proposed legislation Dec. 14. Earlier last year, he declared his candidacy for executive in this fall's election to replace McCarthy, who will leave office at the end of this year because of term limitations. In a related development, a lawsuit by the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) alleges Pierce County has violated the state's Public Records Act. The government-transparency watchdog organization claims in the case filed in Thurston County Superior Court that Pierce County violated the Public Records Act by refusing to supply by e-mail the public documents that WCOG requested last April. The records were related to what WCOG called a conflict of interest created by Lindquist's personal intervention as a private party in a pending case involving the cell phone dispute, as well as records relating to Lindquist's hiring of private attorneys and the relationship between those attorneys and the prosecutor's office. According to WCOG, Lindquist's office is delaying WCOG's request for records about how Lindquist and other Pierce County attorneys have handled the cell phone case. Those records aren't exempt from public disclosure and should have been produced months ago, the organization contends. Lindquist's office has disputed WCOG's claims. In November, McCarthy hired an outside attorney to ask the Thurston County court to remove Lindquist's office as the county's representative in the case. Lindquist is at the center of other controversies, as well. He is facing an allegation of ethics violations filed with the county's Ethics Commission, and citizens have launched a recall effort against him.


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