The first bid to succeed indicted state Auditor Troy Kelley from within Kelley’s own party comes from a first-time candidate.
Seattle lawyer Jeff Sprung announced Monday he would run as a Democrat for the job as state government’s financial watchdog.
“The image of the Auditor’s office has been tarnished by the personal scandals of incumbent Troy Kelley, but the critical work of the office must be reinvigorated by new, focused, and ethical leadership,” Sprung said in a statement.
First-term Tacoma Democrat Kelley had taken an indefinite, unpaid leave of absence while fighting criminal charges including money laundering and tax evasion. He returned to the office Tuesday in response to state lawmakers announcing a move to impeach him for going on leave.
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Kelley said Tuesday he doesn’t expect to run for re-election, while not ruling it out.
Sprung starts his campaign with an endorsement from Kelley’s immediate predecessor, Brian Sonntag, a former five-term auditor from Pierce County.
Sonntag is a Democrat but his support for his own party’s candidates isn’t a given. He has endorsed Republicans including Rob McKenna for governor and Federal Way’s Mark Miloscia for state Senate.
Miloscia is making his second bid for auditor, touting his experience as a lawmaker and auditing contracts for the Air Force. Others with reported interest in running include Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell.
Others could line up based on Kelley’s stated reluctance to run or based on the outcome of Kelley’s scheduled trial in March.
Sprung, 56, is a former federal prosecutor. He’s also a partner with the very law firm that helped undo Kelley’s status as a political rising star.
Hagens Berman sued in 2008 on behalf of homeowners who claimed they paid improper fees to title companies, only to have its cases dismissed in part because some title companies passed the fees on to third parties such as Kelley’s former company.
Prosecutors now say Kelley kept nearly $3 million from those fees that he should have repaid. The criminal case relies in part on actions Kelley took in response to Hagens Berman’s lawsuits.
The law firm is likely to be central to Kelley’s trial, based on questioning from Kelley’s defense attorney in a pre-trial hearing last week.
Sprung didn’t work on the title-company cases, he said. Instead, he said he has represented whistleblowers and companies victimized by price-fixing.
He said he represented a University of Washington researcher who helped the government recoup hundreds of millions of dollars from a drug company by exposing manipulated scientific research.