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Washam’s deputy files recall petition against Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, claiming Lindquist is obstructing justice

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on Oct. 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
October 21, 2010 9:25 pm

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist won’t go after former Assessor-Treasurer Ken Madsen for allegedly falsifying county tax records, Deputy Assessor-Treasurer Alberto Ugas says.

So Ugas, in his status as a private citizen, is going after Lindquist.

Prosecutor Mark Lindquist

Ugas and Dan Fishburn, a local general contractor, launched a recall drive against Lindquist this week.

The six-page “Citizens Recall Petition” is accompanied by 624 pages of assertions, documents and exhibits that Ugas says proves the case that Lindquist should be recalled, Ugas told me last night.

Ugas and Fishburn claim Lindquist obstructed justice by actively discouraging police agencies from investigating claims of wrongdoing in the office of former Assessor-Treasurer Ken Madsen.

Lindquist, who was appointed prosecutor last year, is seeking election to a four year term. One of his former prosecutors, Bertha Fitzer, is opposing him in the Nov. 2 general election.

He discounts the petition as frivolous and says he’s done his job to the absolute letter of the law.

“Both the sheriff and I take seriously any allegations of criminal conduct,” Lindquist told me this afternoon. ” I’m confident that the sheriff’s office will look at this (the allegations of illegal activity  in Madsen’s office)  and after the sheriff’s office looks at it, they will discuss it with us.”

“We have not advised the sheriff’s office or anyone else not to investigate this,” Lindquist said. “That’s absurd.”

The recall petition appears to be the latest salvo in a barrage of complaints, letters and public pleas from the office of Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam to investigate alleged wrongdoing by former Assessor-Treasurer Ken Madsen.

Madsen and his staff “falsified” thousands of property value assessments from 2001-2008 and forged documents in the assessor’s office, Ugas alleges in the recall effort. An independent investigation found earlier this year that Madsen’s office failed to do in-person property assessments as required by law and instead used statistical analyses to assign value.

Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam

Washam and Ugas long have maintained the actions of Madsen and his staff tainted the county’s tax rolls and harmed property owners by unfairly shifting tax burdens. State officials have said though the required inspections were skipped, they don’t believe any damage was done.

Washam refused this year to certify the tax rolls to the state and said he won’t sign an oath that they’re correct until his office can catch up on all the inspections that weren’t done. State law requires that every property get an in-person evaluation at least once every six years.

Ugas said filing the recall petition as a private citizen was his idea, and Washam did not direct him to take the action. Ugas did, however, consult Washam on the issue, he said. Washam tried unsuccessfully to recall Madsen in 2005.

In this announcement, Recall Press Release Ugas said Lindquist failed to enforce the law by not prosecuting “those responsible for the falsification of hundreds of thousands of appraisals in the Pierce County Assessor’s Office.”

The recall petition also charges that Lindquist is guilty of obstruction of justice “by intentionally discouraging the Pierce County Sheriff and the Tacoma Police departments from pursuing investigations” into the alleged criminal violations.

Lindquist’s actions constitute the “misfeasance/and or malfeasance” in office that are grounds for recall, the petition says.

Lindquist told me he can make a decision to charge someone with criminal activity only after presented with the results of an investigation by a law enforcement agency. A number of state and local agencies, including the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, have assessed many of Washam’s allegations and declined to press for criminal prosecution of Madsen or his staff.

“Mr. Washam’s petition is so frivolous it would be funny if not for the fact that Mr. Washam keeps wasting time and taxpayers’ money,” Lindquist told me in a phone conversation Wednesday.

If a law enforcement agency presents him with a case, “we’ll review it and make a charging decision,” he said.

Ugas, told of Lindquists’s comments, retorted: “We basically feel that there have been some very serious violations of law …. And we believe we have a county prosecutor who does not take seriously a violation of law.”

To that, Lindquist responded: “The only thing I dont take seriously is Mr. Washam and Mr Ugas. It’s impossible to take them seriously when they file a frivolous recall petition. … Even while I don’t take Mr. Washam or Mr. Ugas seriously, I will take this situation and the allegations seriously when the sheriff brings them to us for review.”

As to the involvement of his boss, Ugas said: “Obviously Mr. Washam has been through the recall process, so I have picked his brain as was needed.
Fishburn, a Lake Tapps property owner who has sparred with county officials over problems with a million-dollar home he says is uninhabitable, could not be reached for comment.

Asked whether Washam directed or asked him to file the petition, Ugas said: “No. It was my idea to do this and I had the good fortune to have the help of Mr. Fishburn. … I did most of the writing myself.”

Investigators have found that Washam, who was elected in 2008 and took office in 2009, has violated state and federal law by retaliating against an employee who disagreed with him.

Mark Williams, an employee demoted by Washam, filed a $750,000 damage claim against the county last week. In it, he alleges Washam violated his rights, defamed him and retaliated against him over a two-year period.

In his nearly two years in office, Washam has continued – and recently stepped up – his drumbeat that Madsen and his staff should be held criminally accountable for their actions.

Ugas and Fishburn filed their recall petition against Lindquist with Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson. She turned it over to the state Attorney General’s Office, as required by state law. (In a recall involving any other county official, the local prosecutor would take charge of the case.)

Under the state’s recall statutes, the attorney general’s office has 15 days to write a ballot synopsis of the recall effort and turn that over to Superior Court. The court then determines whether there are grounds for a recall to proceed.

All of that would occur after the Nov. 2 election.

Ugas said he’s confident the petition meets all the requirements of the law.

It’s not clear, however, how Lindquist might fight into the recall statutes, since he’s an appointed official at this point, and the state law refers  to “elective” public officers.

Lindquist believes  the case “will be thrown out on the merits.”

“We’re doing our job in the prosecutor’s office and I wish Mr. Washam would focus on doing his job,” Lindquist said.

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