EPHRATA — After filing for offices last week, candidates throughout the state are ramping up their campaigns for the coming election season.
In Grant County, last year’s race for prosecuting attorney between Prosecutor D. Angus Lee and former Deputy Prosecutor Albert Lin never really ended.
The two fought it out in a close election last November, when Lee won by 275 votes out of more than 16,500 ballots cast. But the election was only good for one year, to finish out the unfinished term of former Prosecutor John Knodell.
Last week, Lin and Lee both filed again to become Grant County prosecutor, and issues left over from the last election are already plaguing this one.
Lee says he’s been cleared of wrongdoing alleged in the last election by three separate investigations.
But new issues — and a Washington State Bar Association complaint against Lee over some of the same allegations — are surfacing.
Since becoming prosecutor 18 months ago, nine people in his office have lost their jobs, six of them deputy prosecutors, former employees say. More people, with less experience, have been hired. Lee declined to say how many people have left.
“I haven’t done the math,” he said.
The number of people including secretaries and legal assistants who left, were fired or not reappointed is not clear.
Lee said he fired only one deputy prosecutor, and the rest were not reappointed, or chose to leave after he imposed a strict 40-hour-per week rule. As for their experience, “I appointed the 13 most competent, qualified attorneys that I could find,” he said.
Three of the people who used to work for him — one a deputy prosecutor — filed lawsuits in federal court against the county and against Lee claiming wrongful termination.
Lin — who wasn’t reappointed after the election — filed a tort claim against the county — a precursor to a lawsuit.
Also after the election, Lee filed a complaint against Lin to the Washington State Bar Association, and against four other lawyers or retired judges who supported Lin during the election: Stephen Hallstrom, Carl Waring, Teddy Chow and Kenneth Jorgensen, retired judge.
All five complaints were dismissed by the Bar Association.
“It’s purely political. Political revenge,” Hallstrom said.
A Grant County deputy prosecutor for 23 years, and chief deputy for 16 of them, Hallstrom was not reappointed after Lee became prosecutor.
Lee’s grievance against Hallstrom had to do with a letter of recommendation by former Prosecutor John Knodell, who wanted Hallstrom to succeed him, and who put a letter of support in his personnel file that Hallstrom mentioned to county commissioners before they appointed Lee.
According to the dismissed grievance, Lee complained to the Bar Association that the letter wasn’t in Hallstrom’s file.
“He waited over a year, and then told the bar that I said there was a letter in my file, and there isn’t, ergo I’m not truthful,” Hallstrom said. Now head prosecutor for the city of Spokane, Hallstrom said the letter was in his file when he left, and he wasn’t lying about it. He said the former administrative secretary, who was fired, could confirm it. He said if Lee can’t find it, he doesn’t know what happened to it.
The real issue, Hallstrom said, is that Lee filed the complaint against him on Grant County letterhead.
Carl Waring, former Grant County District Court judge and now a private attorney in Moses Lake, said he, too, believes Lee’s complaints to the Bar Association are vindictive.
“He filed a number of complaints with the bar to try and intimidate people who had supported Albert Lin — to keep them from supporting him again,” Waring said. “It takes a little more than that to intimidate me. But that doesn’t change the fact that he was trying.”
Based on the dismissal letters, Lee’s complaints allege that, while supporting Lin, the lawyers made false statements.
The Bar Association was not convinced their statements were false.
Lee said it’s part of his job to file complaints against lawyers he feels have acted unethically.
He declined to discuss them, however, saying, “It’s a confidential process for a reason.”
Lin said Lee should be focused on prosecuting crime in Grant County. He said voters should be concerned about Lee’s lack of experience, the drop in the number of felony cases filed since Lee took office, and the fact that the prosecutor has never tried a serious felony.
“We need to have a prosecutor dealing with the real issues, like fighting violent crime, which is rampant in our county, instead of having a prosecutor who just files grievances,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lee faces a Bar Association complaint against him, and the person who filed it says Lee tried to come after him personally.
Retired Grant County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Couture said he filed the complaint last year, after Lee said during a community forum that his office never received any information about an incident involving Grant County District Court Judge Richard Fitterer, who police say sideswiped a vehicle in Quincy. The judge told police he didn’t know he’d hit anyone. Police said the victim didn’t want to pursue charges. Lee later said he never received a written report about the incident.
But his statement at the forum led Couture to file the complaint.
“Angus Lee denied knowing anything about the incident, and that was the catalyst for the initial complaint,” Couture said in a recent telephone interview. “There was a definite attempt at some kind of coverup.”
Deputy prosecutors said they personally told Lee about the sideswiping incident the day it happened, but Lee later said he was referring to receiving police reports. The Bar Association has asked for Lee’s phone records on the day of the accident, and asked numerous questions about his knowledge of what happened, and when he knew it.
Couture said after he filed the complaint against Lee, the prosecutor attempted to get his personnel file from the Grant County sheriff.
Undersheriff John Turley confirmed last week that Lee made an official request for a copy of Couture’s file, using the Grant County prosecutor’s letterhead.
Turley said the sheriff refused his request, because it came shortly after Couture filed a complaint with the Bar. “He really didn’t give any reason why (he wanted the personnel file). Dan had been retired for some time,” Turley said.
Couture said the Bar Association is still investigating the matter, but declined to speculate on whether the Bar may take action against Lee. “They’re definitely doing their job,” he said.
The county has also conducted investigations.
Grant County commissioners — who initially appointed Lee as prosecutor — hired two attorneys to look into Lee’s actions as prosecutor after Lin and former Deputy Prosecutor Teddy Chow alleged improper governmental actions. The investigations — one by Ephrata lawyer Jerry Moberg and two by Yakima attorney Jeanie Tolcacher — found no evidence to support their allegations.
Chow said neither investigation was thorough or independent. Moberg, he said, represents the county in its insurance pool. Tolcacher relied on Moberg’s investigation to make her conclusions.
Chow said, “She admits to not interviewing anybody except for myself and Jerry Moberg,” who investigates lawsuits against the county through its insurance pool. Chow said he gave her the names of officers who investigated the sideswiping incident, and other deputy prosecutors who knew he learned about the incident the day it happened, and she never interviewed any of them. “My concern is, it’s not independent, and it’s not an investigation,” he said.
County Commissioner Cindy Carter said the county took the allegations seriously, and hired Tolcacher as an independent investigator after questions arose about Moberg’s relationship with the county.
Commissioners issued two news releases in the last two months stating, “Mr. Lee has been completely exonerated.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512