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Hearing examiner denies City of Tacoma victims advocate’s ethics appeal

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Aug. 11, 2010 at 12:02 pm with 10 Comments »
August 11, 2010 3:30 pm

A Tacoma hearing examiner has denied the city’s top domestic violence victims advocate’s appeal of a city investigator’s findings that she “knowingly misused her official city position and city funds” to help a client illegally flee the state with her kids in 2007.

In a 17-page ruling issued Tuesday, Examiner Rodney Kerslake cited inconsistencies between Gloria China Fortson‘s sworn testimony given during her appeals hearing last month, and her previous written statements and interviews with a city investigator.

China Fortson testifies at her city appeals hearing last week.
China Fortson is sworn in at her city appeals hearing last week.

He also found that Fortson’s explanations about a receipt showing she rented a van for her client to leave the state, in direct violation of a court order, weren’t believable.

“The Hearing Examiner finds … Fortson’s explanation to be implausible and finds that the documentary exhibit speaks for itself,” Kerslake wrote.

Kerslake then upheld the city’s findings.

“The appeal brought before the Hearing Examiner by China Fortson is HEREBY denied and the determination made by Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson that China Fortson violated Tacoma’s City Code of Ethics … for misusing her official City position and City funds to procure special privileges for Keisha Jackson, is HEREBY affirmed,” Kerslake concluded.

With Kerslake’s ruling, Fortson, 54, the city’s lone full-time DV advocate since 1998, faces punishment up to losing her job. Anderson, the city manager, will make the disciplinary decision.

Anderson, who today declined to give a time-frame for when a decision might be made, said “the process has begun.”

“With this (ruling), our plan is to take appropriate disciplinary action,” he added. “I will not speculate or talk publicly about what any disciplinary decision of an employee may or may not be at this point.”

Fortson, who has remained in her $61,000 per year job pending the outcome of her appeal, could not immediately be reached for comment today. Her lawyer said she’ll appeal the case in court.

Fortson worked as an advocate on behalf of Puyallup resident Keisha Jackson after Jackson leveled abuse allegations in 2006 against her husband, Kelvin Jackson, during a tangled legal separation and custody dispute. Kelvin Jackson consistently has denied the allegations; a judge found that domestic violence did not apply in the civil case.

City investigator Tracy Storwick later found Fortson had violated the city’s ethics code by renting a van for Keisha Jackson to flee the state with her kids for months, directly violating a judge’s order. Keisha Jackson later was arrested in Florida and returned to Washington, where she later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor contempt of court charge.

Kerslake upheld Storwick’s conclusions.

“The Hearing Examiner found that Fortson knowingly used City funds to assist Keisha Jackson’s travel to Florida, travel that had no nexus to domestic violence,” Kerslake wrote in his decision.

“Thus, without a nexus to domestic violence, the City funds expended to rent Keisha Jackson a van to travel to Florida with the Jackson children and the rental of a hotel for Keisha Jackson to stay in SeaTac constitutes a knowing misuse of City funds by Fortson to secure special privileges for Keisha Jackson in violation of (city ethics codes).”

We wrote extensively about Fortson’s case here, and covered her three-day appeals hearing before Kerslake last month here, here and here.

During her appeal, Fortson and her lawyer contended the Storwick’s investigation was biased, over-reaching, shoddy and jumped to conclusions based on no facts.

But Kerslake found Storwick’s testimony “straight-forward, consistent with the circumstances and to be credible.” Kerslake also found that Jerry Lee, a city EEO Officer who sat in on Storwick’s final interview of Fortson and whose notes supported the city investigator, was a credible witness who had “(n)o reason for any bias.”

Steve Downing, Fortson’s attorney, told me in a phone call today he was disappointed, but not surprised by Kerslake’s ruling. Characterizing the city’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” Downing said Fortson will likely appeal the case to Pierce County Superior Court.

“You had a city hearing examiner who is a city employee deciding the issue,” Downing said. “But I don’t believe in any way, shape or form that this is going to hold up in a court of law.”

We’ll have a full story in Thursday’s News Tribune. In the meantime, here’s Kerslake’s written ruling:

Leave a comment Comments → 10
  1. Concernedfather says:

    She should lose her job, and pay restitution to the tax payers; at the very least.

  2. Whatever1214 says:

    Next up…. the race card.

  3. Yes, clearly this ‘witch hunt’ was racially motivated. What more proof is needed other than the defendant being a person of color? Nah, too easy…she was just incompetent at her job of 12 years. What bothered me the most is that her story changed during the course of the investigation. Clearly, at least one of her statements was not truthful. Why is lying through an attorney considered a legitimate tactic? She would have been better off taking the fifth.

  4. concernedfather and whatever have pretty much hit the nail on the head!Andersons next duty is clear,at leeast to me.

  5. Does

  6. pen_mightier_than_sword says:

    Perjury charges should be the next step. Lawyers are ethically prohibited from suborning perjury and that should be investigated as well to make sure that did not occur.

  7. pen_mightier_than_sword says:

    Subornation of perjury is a legal term describing the crime of persuading another to commit perjury.[1]

    It may be applied to an attorney who presents testimony (or an affidavit) the attorney knows is materially false to a judge or jury as if it were factual. Generally, the knowledge that the testimony is materially false must rise above mere suspicion to what a reasonable attorney would have believed in the circumstances. For example, the attorney cannot be wilfully blind to the fact that their witness is giving false testimony. An attorney who actively encourages a witness to give false testimony is clearly guilty of suborning perjury. It can occur in either a civil and criminal case.

    Se

  8. pen_mightier_than_sword says:

    Trying to write “See wikipedia” above

  9. puyallup_leon says:

    Yep, if she was smart she would move on. Fighting it will just dig herself a deeper hole.

  10. jandkgibbs says:

    Treat this person fairly and if guilty she needs to be fired. Keep it public to defuse the ones that play the race card. I don’t care about her color, it’s about our tax dollars.

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