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Recall effort faces mounting challenges

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Claims for damages involving Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist and his office total some $10 million largely stemming from claims handled by the same Fircrest-based attorney, Joan Mell. And the numbers are growing along with the legal bills taxpayers are paying. The allegations and cross allegations would make for a real page-turner novel. Lindquist might even write it one day or include it in a reality show he is in talks to create. He already has five crime novels that pull from real life cases, after all. This could be one more.

“That is a safe bet,” Lindquist said. “I would put money on that.”

Before the presses start on that book, however, he has quite a bit of legal troubles to face, including streams of legal filings involving allegations that he is politicizing the office, retaliating against critics and violating public trust followed by rebuttals and counter claims. Criticism is nothing new for Lindquist, who is unrepentant about his leadership style.

“The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing and be nothing,” Lindquist said, quoting the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Lindquist was appointed by a bipartisan and unanimous vote of the Pierce County Council in 2009 to run the office. He won election in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2014. He has announced he will run again in 2018.

“I’m tough against all crimes,” he said, noting as proof that his office files two times as many felony charges as King County does, per capita. “Pierce County has tough challenges, and we need a tough prosecutor.”

It’s that volume of cases and his office’s aggressive prosecution, Lindquist said, that also led to the noted fact that more than half of the cases to be overturned for prosecutorial misconduct since 2012 in Washington involve cases prosecuted by his office.

“We aren’t afraid of going to trial on close cases,” he said, adding that the broad label of “prosecutorial misconduct” is a misnomer. A prosecutor’s good-faith tactic during a trial can be allowed by a presiding judge, he said. Another judge could then tag the same tactic as prosecutorial misconduct rather than judicial misconduct made by the presiding judge.

A tree rooted in a sex-crime case has branched into his current troubles. The six-year saga in the Dalsing case has sparked a swirl of claims, whistleblower allegations, cross claims and appeals that will likely take years and millions of taxpayer dollars to meander through the legal system, with media outlets chronicling the journey.

Lynn Dalsing was charged with child rape in 2010. Her sex offender husband and another man were also charged, and later convicted, of raping Dalsing’s daughter and two of her friends. Dalsing had spent months in jail. Charges against Dalsing were later dropped. She then sued Pierce County for malicious prosecution. New charges were filed against her in 2014. A judge later dismissed those charges on the grounds that they were a matter of prosecutorial vindictiveness and only filed because Dalsing had sued for damages.

The deciding judge noted that the investigation into Dalsing spanned almost three years, stating that Lindquist’s office “was not interested in this information until after the civil lawsuit was filed by the defendant against Pierce County.”

Lindquist’s office filed – then withdrew – an appeal against that ruling, saying an appeal would be traumatic to the victim, who is now living with family in Texas.

The complicated case now includes not only Dalsing’s lawsuit, but claims of retaliation against a handful of Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies who were involved in the investigation, whistleblower complaints by members of Lindquist’s office and ethic probes by the Washington State Bar Association. A Pierce County Ethics Commission investigation is looking into a potential violation involving free legal advice Lindquist personally received from a lawyer at Keating, Bucklin and McCormack. That could be a violation of the county’s rules on officials receiving gifts worth more than $25. But that issue gets even murkier because his office then hired the firm, at taxpayer expense, to represent the county in the same dispute. The firm had never done work for the county. That taxpayer-funded work tops $500,000 at last count. The county has spent another $300,000 on the issue as well. The pro bono work, something that is routine in legal circles, had been reviewed by the county’s Civil Division, so he is confident they made the right decision and says the roster of allegations are political theater that doesn’t distract him.

“We live in a small community,” he said of the 800,000 residents of Pierce County. “I think they can figure out what is going on. … I stay focused on public safety and public service. … I stay focused on protecting the citizens of the county,” he said. “Lawsuits are filed against the county for any number of reasons, one of them is political.”

He said he continues to talk about the law and the duties of his office at public meetings and community gatherings on top of running an aggressive staff of attorneys. Critics have called him arrogant and void of any ability to accept criticism or dissension. Confronted with what others have said about him, Lindquist stayed on message.

“No one is talking about the recall,” he said of people he meets at community forums. “People care about the safety of their children, the safety of their homes and the safety of their neighborhoods. That’s what matters. I stay focused on protecting the citizens of Pierce County and work to make sure the county will always be safe.”

As far as members of his own staff filing complaint against him, he has no regrets about how he runs his office. He points out that he changed from a seniority-based promotion system to one based on performance. That change, he said, made some staffers aggressive and high achievers, while making others – less aggressive prosecutors – resentful.

“Some people call that politics,” he said. “I call that public service. I have little patience for laziness and mediocrity. I lead an office that is high achieving and aggressive. Both of those qualities will upset people, and that’s okay. We play hard, but we play by the rules.”

Joan Mell, an attorney representing most of the clients’ alleging misdoings and acts of retaliation by Lindquist and his office, including a $6.5 million claim filed by Deputy Glenda Nissen and a $3.6 million claim filed against the county by retired Deputy Mike Ames, thinks differently.

“The best case scenario would be for Mark to just go,” she said. Mell donated $120 to the recall campaign and did some legal work for Iseberg in 2010 to help set up Finn’s Fight, a nonprofit to raise money to assist owners of Labrador Retrievers with Canine Epilepsy. “There is no cap on his expenses as long as he is in charge.”

Mell also did some legal work for Lindquist’s predecessor Gerry Horne in the mid-2000s involving allegations that Horne fired deputy prosecutor Barbara Corey when he learned she was considering a run for his office. Corey won $3 million in a jury trial in 2008. Horne left the office the following year, prompting Lindquist’s appointment. Mell is now representing clients who claim Lindquist retaliates against his critics. She said she has talked to Horne about the swirl of legal issues surrounding Lindquist. She said Horne feels Lindquist is tarnishing the office.

When contacted for an interview, Horne was short and polite.

“I would just rather stay out of it at this point,” he said. “But whatever Joan told you is probably true.”

Horne’s predecessor, John Ladenburg, hired Lindquist out of law school. He wouldn’t comment much about Lindquist either other than to say that he auctioned off an item at one of Lindquist’s election campaign events last year.

“Right now, I am the Interim Court Administrator and cannot get involved in political fights,” he wrote in an email. “Also, the governor has appointed me to the Executive Ethics Commission, and I take office next month to serve two years there. It is possible that some the problems that Mark is involved in could end up there.”

Ladenburg, who left the prosecutor’s office to serve as county executive and is now in private practice, is also the attorney for the Pierce County Community Newspaper Group, publisher of the University Place Press.

In a further twist in an already complex tale of swerves and side stories, Corey’s attorney against Horne was John “Jack” Connelly. Connelly and Lindquist are friends. Lindquist lists him as a member of Pierce County’s top-tier attorneys who support him, as opposed to the list of “lower-tier” attorneys who don’t.

“Mark is a friend, and he is going through tough times right now,” Connelly said. “He has been committed to Pierce County for years, and he takes his job very seriously.”

He and Lindquist haven’t talked much about the current state of affairs, he said.

“It’s not my job to jump in and give advice,” Connelly said.

He, however, offered his own armchair quarterbacking of the situation by noting that the extensive media coverage about the allegations, hearings, rulings and appeals hasn’t stopped for months. It now seems to have caused yet more allegations to arise to what Connelly characterized as an “unprecedented” level.

“That’s of concern,” he said. “There has been a bit of piling on. People believe where there is smoke, there is fire.”

That said, Connelly isn’t ready to give Lindquist a full pass on the allegations against him and his office.

“None of us know what the full truth really is,” he said. “These things have to work themselves through, so the truth comes out.”

Outtakes:

“It is longer than a Harry Potter novel and less based in reality,” Lindquist said of complaints against him that total some 1,000 pages he says are filled with speculations and theories rather than facts and evidence.

“He (Lindquist) pissed off somebody, and I don’t know who it is,” said Jerry Gibbs, petition gatherer for the ballot measure to kill plans for the Pierce County General Services Building. “When you run unopposed, you get sloppy, and I think he got sloppy.”

“I’m the one who autographed that sign – as a joke. I was just joking,” said Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer, regarding a recall campaign sign that petition volunteers waved outside of a Lindquist appearance at Kings Books earlier this year. Troyer asked for a recall sign. They gave him one. “They had no idea what I was going to do with it,” he said, noting that he signed Lindquist’s name himself and returned it to the protesters as a joke. The recall effort, however, then auctioned the sign off for more than $1,000, listing Lindquist as a high-dollar donor to his own recall effort. That prompted a PDC investigation.

“My opponents fabricated that claim in 2010. That shows you how low they are willing to go,” Lindquist said, concerning an allegation that he once said the murders of Lakewood Police Department officers Mark Renninger, Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards on Nov. 29, 2009, was worth $100,000 of publicity for his campaign because of the media attention the deaths created.

“I may choose to turn over my personal and political communications, but the government doesn’t have the right to that personal and political communication. Everyone has the right to their personal and political communications,” Lindquist said, noting that privacy holds true even if those communications are between him and members of his staff, saying that people don’t give up their right of privacy because they chose public service careers. “We turned over everything we possessed that was related to work. We have gone above and beyond what was required… At what point do you say, ‘No. You don’t get these communications between my wife and I about our babysitter.’”

“Is he (Lindquist) crooked? Yeah. Should he be recalled? Yeah,” said Will Baker, professional signature gatherer. “But I’m not blind to history. They are all black hats. There is nothing new here.”

“Adversity is a blessing,” Lindquist said. “My supporters have been galvanized by this and have become wiser and stronger.”

The cases for and against Lindquist and his office are com- plex, nuanced and often inter- twined.  What are your thoughts? Go to <a href="http://www.tacomaweekly.com/news/article/Recall-or-Lindquist" target="_blank">TACOMAWEEKLY</a> to take a quick poll about the issue.</p>

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