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Deputy Assessor-Treasurer Ugas could be liable for legal bills in bid to recall Prosecutor Lindquist, county attorney says

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on Oct. 27, 2010 at 10:14 am | 7 Comments »
October 27, 2010 4:18 pm

An effort by Pierce County Deputy Assessor-Treasurer Alberto Ugas and another Pierce County resident to recall Prosecutor Mark Lindquist could cost the pair a lot of money in legal fees.

Lindquist says the recall is frivolous and believes it’s an attempt to influence the Nov. 2 General Election in which Lindquist is opposed by attorney Bertha Fitzer, who formerly worked in the prosecutor’s office.

When I asked Pierce County Communications Director Hunter George who would represent Lindquist and pay the legal bills in this case, I got this reply by e-mail from Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Douglas Vanscoy, who works for Lindquist.

“The County, including the Prosecutor’s Office, is precluded by law from supporting or opposing any recall or other ballot measure. The lone exception to that rule is a statute, RCW 4.96.041(3), permitting a county or other local government to pay the reasonable litigation expenses, including private counsel, incurred by the subject of a recall. The County may not be asked to pay for such expenses related to this particular recall, however. The state Supreme Court held in 1998 that courts are not “powerless to respond to intentionally frivolous recall petitions brought for the purpose of harassment. Attorney fees may be awarded against a petitioner who brings a recall petition in bad faith.”

Ugas could not be reached for comment this morning. He and Lake Tapps resident Dan Fishburn filed the recall petition against Lindquist last week, claiming Lindquist has failed to uphold the law by refusing to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by previous Assessor-Treasurer Ken Madsen and his staff.

Ugas said he’s acting as a concerned private citizen – and not at the direction of his boss, Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam, in the matter.

Their six-page petition, accompanied by 624 pages of backup documents, affidavits and other materials, also alleged Lindquist obstructed justice by dissuading the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department from investigating the issue.

LIndquist said he believes “it will be thrown out on the merits,” adding there’s no truth to the claim he obstructed justice. His department doesn’t investigate crimes, but if the Sheriff’s Department brings him evidence of wrongdoing, the prosecutor’s office will take it seriously and review it to make a decision on whether charges should be filed, Lindquist said last week.

An independent investigtation found earlier this year that  Washam was right in his assertions that Madsen and his staff failed to perform thousands of in-person property assessment inspections required by law from 2001-2008.

Washam, who was elected in 2008 and took office in January 2009, has made his efforts to get a criminal investigation into the matter a centerpiece of his administration.

Officials from several agencies have ruled there’s no need for further investigation and say taxpayers weren’t harmed by the missed inspections.

Washam and Ugas refer to the inspections as “falsified’ and contend a criminal investigation is warranted into the “forgeries” of public documents they say occurred during Madsen’s watch.

The recall petition was turned over to the state Attorney General’s office to avoid any conflict of interest. The Ag’s office must write a ballot synopsis of how the recall might appear before voters and submit it to Superior Court, which will then conduct a hearing on whether the petition is appropriate. That synopsis is due Nov. 3; a court hearing would be scheduled after that.

There are many questions. At this moment, Lindquist is an appointed prosecutor. The election for a new four-year prosecutor term will not take place until next week – two weeks after the petition was filed.

The recall would be moot if he loses the election.

If the court the petition valid, then signature gathering could begin under the state’s recall laws.

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