A King County judge has sanctioned two attorneys hired by Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist’s office, citing their “intentionally misleading conduct” during a long-running lawsuit.
The ruling Wednesday from Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus sanctions Seattle attorneys Richard Jolley and Stewart Estes. It orders them to pay $32,000 for withholding information from civil attorney Fred Diamondstone and conducting “misleading settlement negotiations” that fell apart in December.
The negotiations were tied to a long-running false-arrest lawsuit filed by former Longbranch resident Lynn Dalsing, twice charged with sex crimes by Lindquist’s office.
Those charges were dismissed initially in 2011 because of erroneous evidence: a picture wrongly identified as Dalsing. The charges were dismissed again by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ed Murphy in 2015, due to a finding of prosecutorial vindictiveness.
Asked for comment, Jolley and Lindquist said last week’s sanctions were irrelevant to the underlying lawsuit, which the county still expects to win. They added that county taxpayers would not be saddled with the bill for the sanctions.
The adverse ruling represents another misstep in the Dalsing lawsuit, which has generated more than 500 court filings, discovery squabbles and appeals since 2012, along with two related lawsuits and a state bar association complaint against Lindquist’s office.
However, the adverse ruling represents another misstep in the Dalsing lawsuit, which has generated more than 500 court filings, discovery squabbles and appeals since 2012, along with two related lawsuits and a state bar association complaint against Lindquist’s office.
The county has paid outside attorneys more than $396,000 to defend the primary lawsuit, with the bulk of those payments going to Jolley and Estes over the past seven months, according to figures from the county’s risk management division.
The facts behind the ruling also reveal a new detail: Attorneys and Lindquist were prepared to settle the Dalsing case in December for $250,000, after months of branding Dalsing as an accomplice to the rape of her then-7-year-old daughter and two young friends.
LINDQUIST CALLS RULING IRRELEVANT
Records in court files include a sequence of internal emails. They show the settlement agreement fell apart because Jolley and Estes never told Diamondstone, Dalsing’s attorney, that the proposed settlement amount was unacceptable to the county’s risk manager, Mark Maenhout.
“This court finds that defense counsel (Jolley and Estes) engaged in bad faith litigation tactics by misleading Plaintiff’s counsel (Diamondstone) into believing that Pierce County was willing to pay Plaintiff $250,000, when in fact Pierce County was not willing to do so.”
Jolley, the chief litigator in the Dalsing case, said Thursday that he disagreed with the judge’s ruling. He added the sanctions didn’t matter, and that they weren’t newsworthy. He said the aborted settlement represented “nuisance value,” and contended the county will win if the lawsuit goes to trial.
“The county didn’t get sanctioned — I got sanctioned,” Jolley said. “This has nothing to do with the merits of the lawsuit. It’s a tempest in a teapot. Now we’re getting into the merits. This case is a dog. Diamondstone knows that this case is a loser for him. Our investigation shows that Lynn Dalsing’s hands are dirty.”
We’re confident our attorneys will win this case because the jurors are going to learn the truth about Ms. Dalsing. The sanctions are irrelevant to the facts of the case and are directed toward Mr. Jolley, not the county.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist
Added Lindquist: “We’re confident our attorneys will win this case because the jurors are going to learn the truth about Ms. Dalsing. The sanctions are irrelevant to the facts of the case and are directed toward Mr. Jolley, not the county.”
Friday, Diamondstone said the long-running dispute could have been resolved last fall, when settlement talks began. Court records show an outside mediator suggested the $250,000 figure, and that Diamondstone would have accepted it.
With that prospect off the table, Diamondstone said he’s prepared to go to court.
“It would have been in everyone’s interest to resolve this case and let county officials and Ms. Dalsing get on with their lives,” he said. “We look forward to presenting to a jury, and a jury will respond to the indignities and injustice Ms. Dalsing has suffered. Mr. Jolley’s intemperate comments deserve no further comment. Judge Murphy understood this vindictive prosecution needed to be dismissed in the interests of justice.”
Settlement negotiations began in September, court records say. A professional mediator, Teresa Wakeen, brokered the talks. Maenhout attended, along with the attorneys for both sides.
Initially, Maenhout offered $210,000 to settle the lawsuit. Diamondstone declined. Wakeen suggested $250,000.
Records indicate that Jolley later asked Diamondstone whether he would accept the larger figure; Jolley denies it, but the judge, weighing testimony from both lawyers, found Diamondstone’s account credible. In any case, negotiations continued for the next several weeks.
Each side wanted something: Diamondstone wanted prosecutors to withdraw their appeal of Judge Murphy’s March 31 ruling that dismissed charges against Dalsing due to prosecutorial vindictiveness.
It would have been in everyone’s interest to resolve this case and let county officials and Ms. Dalsing get on with their lives. We look forward to presenting to a jury, and a jury will respond to the indignities and injustice Ms. Dalsing has suffered.
Attorney Fred Diamondstone
Lindquist and deputy prosecutor Jared Ausserer, facing the bar complaint and a separate federal lawsuit, wanted the agreement to include language that said they had probable cause to charge Dalsing originally, and acted in good faith.
Initially, neither side budged. Negotiations stalled for two months. But on Nov. 23, prosecutors withdrew the appeal after an adverse ruling in the federal lawsuit. Diamondstone promptly renewed the offer of $250,000. A rush of emails followed between Diamondstone, Jolley and Estes. The contours of an agreement began to take shape.
According to court records, one key party had been left out of the loop: Maenhout, the county’s risk manager, who signs settlement checks. Maenhout had never agreed to the $250,000 and informed Jolley on Nov. 25 that he would not agree to it, the ruling states.
“Mr. Jolley did not relay this information to Mr. Diamondstone,” the court’s ruling states.
Instead, all other aspects of the settlement were being drafted, including “good-faith” language sought by Lindquist, which Diamondstone accepted, believing the $250,000 figure was the working amount.
The court cannot permit lawyers to engage in intentionally misleading conduct.
Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus
On Dec. 3, Maenhout shot the deal down. For the first time, Diamondstone learned the risk manager had never agreed to the proposed figure. The settlement died.
Subsequently, Diamondstone filed a motion seeking to enforce the settlement. Andrus, the King County judge, declined to go that far, but she wrote that it was “astounding” that Jolley and Estes knew Maenhout had rejected the settlement amount without telling Diamondstone. While declining to enforce the settlement, she invited a motion for sanctions, leading to last week’s ruling.
“This case presents a disturbing situation that, after great reflection, the Court cannot dismiss as ‘just the way the game is played,’ ” Andrus wrote. “If left unchecked, such conduct would encourage future abuses. The court cannot permit lawyers to engage in intentionally misleading conduct — whether that conduct is directed toward opposing counsel or the court.”