Washam's Law
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Published November 14th, 2010 - 6:15AM
Writing a thorough story about the Pierce County assessor-treasurer – the last of a three-part series on today’s front page – was a no-brainer.
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Three independent county investigations found that Washam retaliated against employees, wasted government resources, abused his power and violated county policy by refusing to cooperate with investigators.

Two additional investigations spurred by Washam's deputy, Albert Ugas, found that employees broke no laws, and that there was no conspiracy to discredit Washam. One active investigation remains: an inquiry by the U.S. Department of Justice into possible civil rights violations at Washam's office. Here's the breakdown:

Show Investigations ◄
Investigation 1
Type EEO complaint
Investigator Diane Hess Taylor
Complainant Sally Barnes, administrative officer
Filing date 3-11-09
Charges Retaliation, age discrimination, sex discrimination by Washam
  • Retaliation by Washam against Barnes (for filing complaint)
  • Violation of county policy by refusing to cooperate with investigation (Washam, Borck)
  • No age or gender discrimination
Cost $18,711
Documents Investigation (Taylor)
Investigation 2
Type Whistleblower complaint
Investigator Deborah Diamond
Complainant Albert Ugas, deputy assessor-treasurer
Filing date 11-30-09
Charges Improper governmental action by Sally Barnes
  • Barnes did not violate state law ("Ms. Barnes obeyed what she had been assured were the lawful orders of her superiors." – p. 37)
  • Barnes did not commit perjury in separate court actions
  • Madsen's administration used statistical models to revalue some properties, in violation of state law
Cost $18,413
Documents Investigation (Diamond)
Investigation 3
Type Improper governmental conduct
Investigator Kent Nakamura
Complainant Six unidentified employees
Filing dates 8-17-09, 8-18-09, 8-26-09, 9-16-09, 9-23-09, 10-20-09
Charges Abuse of authority, retaliation, gross waste of public funds, violation of state/federal law or county ordinance (all by Washam)
  • Violation (by Washam) of county code and state and federal EEO laws
  • Retaliation, abuse of authority
  • Waste of public funds
Cost $14,228.05
Documents Investigation (Nakamura)
Investigation 4
Type EEO complaint
Investigator Donald Heyrich
Complainant Four unidentified employees
Filing dates 8-10-09, 8-18-09, 8-26-09, 1-5-10, 3-5-10
Charges Retaliation by Washam
  • Retaliation by Washam against one employee
  • Refusal to participate in investigation
Cost $15,818.50
Documents Investigation (Heyrich)
Investigation 5
Type Improper governmental action
Investigator Jim Webber
Complainant Albert Ugas, deputy assessor-treasurer
Filing date 6-25-10
Charges Harassment of Washam by county human resources department, conspiracy with employee union by HR, manipulation of investigative findings by HR, denial of access to public records
  • All charges unfounded
Cost $5,869.50
Documents Investigation (Heyrich)
Investigation 6
Type Civil-rights violations
Investigator Sonia Sacks, U.S. Department of Justice
Complainant Sally Barnes
Filing date 8-17-11
Charges Retaliation by Washam against employee
Findings Unknown (still active)
  • All charges unfounded
Cost Unknown (no local cost)
Other The federal inquiry follows a Jan. 2011 finding by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Washam retaliated against Barnes.


Five current and former employees filed damage claims with Pierce County, claiming mistreatment by Washam. The claims sought a collective total of $5 million in damages. The county settled the claims for a collective $1.13 million. Here's the breakdown:

Show Claims ◄
Claim 1
Employee Mark Williams
Filing date 10-14-10
Charges Violation of rights, defamation, retaliation
Amount sought $750,000
Williams' current status Williams, a former appraiser who worked for the assessor-treasurer's office for 20 years, resigned in December 2010. He accepted a new position as an aide to Pierce County Councilman Rick Talbert
Outcome Settled for $79,495 on 3-30-11
Documents Mark Williams tort claim
Claim 2
Employee Jim Hall
Filing date 11-4-10
Charges Defamation, retaliation, wrongful demotion
Amount sought $800,000 – $1.2 million
Hall's current status Hall, a former high-ranking appraiser, continues to work at the assessor's office. He has been demoted from a supervisory position to an entry-level appraiser.
Outcome Settled for $300,000 on 3-28-12
Documents Jim Hall tort claim
Claim 3
Employee Shellie Pollitt
Filing date 1-4-11
Charges Defamation, retaliation, wrongful demotion
Amount sought $500,000 – $800,000
Pollitt's current status Pollitt, formerly a high-ranking residential appraiser, continues to work at the assessor's office.
Outcome Settled for $200,000 on 12-23-11
Documents Shellie Pollitt tort claim
Claim 4
Employee Sally Barnes
Filing date 1-4-11
Charges Defamation, retaliation, wrongful demotion
Amount sought $800,000 – $1.5 million
Barnes' current status Barnes, a 30-year employee of the assessor's office and former administrative officer, resigned from the assessor-treasurer's office in March 2010, citing intolerable working conditions.
Outcome Settled for $400,000 on 3-28-12
Documents Sally Barnes tort claim
Claim 5
Employee Cindy O'Neill
Filing date 4-22-11
Charges Retaliation, mistreatment
Amount sought $500,000 – $800,000
O'Neil's current status O'Neil, a former project manager and 25-year employee, was laid off in December 2009.
Outcome Settled for $150,000 on 3-28-12

Puyallup resident Robin Farris filed a recall petition on Oct. 29, 2010, seeking to oust Washam from office. On Dec. 16, 2010, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Thomas Felnagle ruled that five of six charges against Washam met the standards of legal and factual sufficiency.

Washam appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court. On March 4, the state Supreme Court approved the recall petition, setting the stage for a signature-gathering drive and a possible special election.

Farris and her supporters gathered 64,387 signatures by Sept. 1, 2011. That wasn't enough. The required threshold was 65,495. Recall backers came up short by 1,108 votes.

Show Recalls ◄
Documents Farris recall petition
Washam's opening brief
Appendices to opening brief
Ferris reply brief
Washam reply brief
Supreme Court order

Albert Ugas, Washam's chief deputy, filed a separate recall petition on Oct. 29, 2010, aimed at Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist. The petition, filed a few days before the November elections, accused Lindquist of obstructing justice by refusing to support Washam's repeated calls for an investigation of actions taken by Ken Madsen, Washam's predecessor in office.

Superior Court Judge James Cayce threw the petition out of court on Nov. 16, 2010, calling it frivolous. In a subsequent hearing, Cayce ruled that Ugas and his co-petitioner, Dan Fishburn, owed Lindquist $50,000 in attorney fees. Ugas appealed both rulings to the state Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court also rejected Ugas's petition, and reaffirmed the ruling regarding attorney fees. The additional fees tied to the appeal meant Ugas and Fishburn owed Lindquist $84,000.


Washam argues that his predecessor, Ken Madsen, forged and falsified county property assessment records by relying on statistical models to revalue certain properties, rather than the physical inspections required by state law.

Washam tried to recall Madsen on that basis in 2005. Madsen admitted the practice in open court, but a judge threw the petition out of court, ruling that Madsen had a "legally cognizable justification" for his actions. Washam did not appeal the decision.

Show Argument ◄

Since taking office in 2009, Washam has resurrected the argument, repeatedly demanding a criminal investigation of Madsen's administration and employees who were involved. Numerous local and state officials, including two county prosecutors, the county sheriff, attorney general, the state Department of Revenue and the governor, have told him an investigation is unnecessary. A county performance audit found that the only harm to taxpayers was lower taxes. Washam disagrees. He argues that his actions against employees are justified by his efforts to expose wrongdoing.

Documents Madsen 05 ruling
Madsen 05 verbatim

June 30, 1938 – Richard Dale Washam born.

Feb. 17, 1956 – Washam marries Dorothy “Dottie” Michaels in Kitsap County. Four children follow.

1956-60 – Washam serves in U.S. Air Force.

1960-63 – Washam says he worked at a Tradewell grocery store and rose to assistant manager.

1963-70 – Washam works for Overall Cleaning and Supply Co., Seattle.

1969-70 – Washam obtains associate’s degree in arts and sciences at Fort Steilacoom Community College (later known as Pierce College).

1970-72 – Washam starts and operates a dry-cleaning business in Lakewood.

1972-73 – Washam works several jobs, selling tires, RVs and trailers.

1974 – Washam hired as a pharmaceutical salesman by Diamond Laboratories Inc.

1975 – Washam begins relationship with Spokane resident Ramona Pinto.

1980 – Washam fired by Diamond after a dispute over compensation and job duties.

1981 – Washam files discrimination complaint against Diamond with state Human Rights Commission. The complaint is dismissed.

1982 – Washam sues Diamond for wrongful termination.

1987 – Ramona Pinto files anti-harassment petition against Washam.

1987 – Washam loses his employment suit against Diamond.