OLYMPIA — The Washington State Bar Association’s disciplinary arm says there’s enough evidence that Grant County Prosecutor D. Angus Lee was unethical in his behavior to take an ethics complaint against him to a hearing.
The April 25 was sparked by decision a grievance filed more than two years ago by former Grant County Sheriff’s deputy Daniel Couture claiming unethical actions by Lee in his attempt to win reelection in 2009.
Couture complained that Lee, as prosecutor, tried to cover up his knowledge of a Grant County judge’s hit-and-run accident, and that he had a conflict of interest in handling a police report involving a former administrative assistant in the prosecutor’s office who was fired and was suing the county for wrongful termination.
An investigation by the bar association also revealed that Lee asked his deputy prosecutor Albert Lin — who was running against him for prosecutor — to take on cases that were a conflict of interest for Lin or for the prosecutor’s office.
In its April 25 decision, a review committee of the bar’s Disciplinary Board found, “There is sufficient evidence of unethical behavior to take further action, and it is ordered that a hearing should be held on the allegations of the grievance.”
Lee could not be reached for comment this morning.
It’s rare for a complaint against a lawyer to go to a hearing, said Christine Gray, associate director for the bar’s Office of Disciplinary Council.
She said out of some 2,000 complaints against lawyers every year, the vast majority are dismissed.
John Strait, a Seattle University associate professor of law and an expert on law ethics said he thinks it may be the first time a complaint against a sitting prosecutor has reached the hearing stage.
“How serious is it? It’s quite serious. Basically, this is the same thing as a finding of probable cause after a motion to dismiss,” he said. “It means this is definitely going forward.”
He said disciplinary action against the prosecutor could also mean his removal from office. “It’s high stakes stuff.”
A hearing is “the most serious result from a lawyer’s point of view,” Gray said of the options that the review committee has in reviewing a case.
However, she said, the review committee does not make a determination about the seriousness of the complaint. “That’s something that’s determined through the hearing process,” she said.
Other options for the review committee include issuing a finding admonishing the lawyer, issuing an advisory letter, dismissing the grievance with no further action, or ordering the grievance be investigated further.
Gray — who investigated Lee’s case, according to documents released by other parties — declined to talk specifically about Lee’s case, but explained the general disciplinary process.
She said a formal complaint with specific charges will be the next step after a hearing is ordered, and that will likely take more than two weeks.
The hearing will be open to the public, she said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512