EPHRATA — The Washington State Bar Association has filed formal civil charges against Grant County Prosecutor D. Angus Lee, alleging that he violated conflict of interest rules during his election campaign in 2009.
The complaint — filed by the Bar Association’s disciplinary board on July 25 — alleges that Lee violated conflict of interest rules in two separate cases, and also knowingly created a conflict of interest for his political opponent, Albert Lin.
Lin was a deputy prosecutor who ran against Lee for the prosecutor’s position in 2009, a year after Lee was appointed to the post by Grant County Commissioners. The complaint says he was involved in handling two cases that posed a conflict of interest for the prosecutor’s office without explaining to the client the risks of that conflict, or getting the client’s consent in writing. In addition, the complaint charges, he repeatedly asked Lin to review cases that were a conflict of interest for both the prosecutor’s office and for Lin personally, and in one case told Lin that his continued refusal to review the case would be considered insubordination.
In June 2009, Elisa Dalluge filed a criminal complaint with Ephrata police against Cathleen Neils, a former administrative assistant, saying that Neils filed a false criminal report by reporting a violation of a no contact order. Lee received the police report and assigned it to Albert Lin, who was running against Lee for Grant County prosecutor. Lee knew that the office had been involved in the events that led the woman to file a criminal complaint, and Lee himself had been involved in obtaining the no contact order against the woman; Neils had publically opposed Lee’s appointment to become prosecutor; Lee personally made a criminal report against Neils in an unrelated matter; Neils sued Grant County for wrongful termination; and three days before assigning the case to Lin, Lee filed counterclaims to Neils’ wrongful termination lawsuit. Lin wrote a memo to Lee saying the case was a clear conflict of interest, but Lee did not accept that conclusion and sent the case back to Lin, who wrote a second memo, and later a third memo saying his attorney advised him it was a clear conflict of interest. After a fourth memo from Lin stating the conflicts, Lee questioned Lin about his relationship with Neils, and Lee said she was a friend and a campaign volunteer.
In September 2009, the Prosecutor’s Office received another criminal complaint from Dalluge seeking felony charges against an unnamed person. The complaint included a letter to the FBI that referenced the Neils case. Lee assigned the case to Lin, who said he had a conflict of interest because of references to the Neils matter, and declined to review it. Lee did not accept Lin’s conclusion, and asked for a memo explaining in detail the conflict. Lee later called Lin into his office to discuss the matter, and informed him if he continue to refuse to review the case, it would be considered insubordination. Lee refused to review the case.
On June 5, 2009, a Grant County District Court Judge was involved in a minor collision. He was later stopped and questioned about it. Lee learned of the incident the same afternoon. In October, at an election forum, a member of the audience asked Lee why he hadn’t done anything about the incident. The day after the forum, Lee gave Lin the police report and asked him to make a decision about whether to charge the judge. Lee knew that the subject of the police report was a judge before whom deputy prosecutors regularly appeared; that the previous day Lee was accused of sitting on the case for months; and that Lin was his political opponent who was also at the candidate’s forum.
Depending on the circumstances, a finding that Lee failed to avoid conflicts of interest could result in sanctions ranging from admonition or a reprimand to suspension of his license or disbarrment, according to American Bar Association standards.
Debra Carnes, a Bar spokeswoman, said no hearing has been set.
Grant County has paid Duvall attorney Leland Ripley more than than $60,000 since 2009 defending Lee in this complaint and other Washigton State Bar Association proceedings.
In an email Tuesday to The Wenatchee World, Lee wrote, “The allegations are flawed both legally and factually, and rely on bad information. I look forward to a public hearing on this matter to address the issue. I am confident that this matter will resolve in my favor.”
Lee also wrote, “Despite these attempts by my political opponents to distract me from my work, I am committed to my work and will not allow this to distract me from prosecuting those who commit crimes in Grant County.”
But Lin — who Lee fired after the election — predicted the county’s prosecutorial reputation is about to hit bottom.
“We may have the first sitting prosecutor ever removed from office. I find that quite disconcerting,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Lin said Lee was the least experienced lawyer of all the candidates considered to be appointed to replace former prosecutor John Knodell, and Grant County Commissioners should never have appointed him.
Lin was among seven deputy prosecutors who wrote a letter to commissioners in January 2009, strongly advising them not to select Lee, saying his appointment would be an “unmitigated disaster for the public, the county and the prosecutor’s office.”
Lin said he believes Lee violated more than conflict of interest rules. “I think there are a lot of issues that the Bar could pursue, but I can understand where a prosecutor would want to go with their best charges,” he said.
He said Lee wasted taxpayer money by bringing numerous bar complaints against political opponents which were all dismissed, and now is spending public money to defend what he said were Lee’s unethical actions to get elected. “He has the audacity to say everybody else has been acting with political motivations, but only one person has been acting with political motivations, and that’s him,” Lin said. Lin still resides in Grant County and is a practicing lawyer.
Lee, in his email, contended that despite a decreasing budget, the Grant County Prosecutor’s Office is more effective than ever before. “Over the last three years Grant County has seen a steady reduction in the crime rate while the trial conviction rate has gone up,” he wrote, adding, “I am very proud of what the members of this office have been able to accomplish for the people of Grant County over the last three years.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512