The campaign to recall Mark Lindquist as Pierce County prosecutor keeps getting more traction.
He’s facing a lengthening indictment (figuratively speaking) over the way he has handled the immense powers of his position. Some of the allegations picked up considerable credibility last month after an independent investigator released his findings about the inner workings of the prosecutor’s office.
Two grand themes jump out of the report: abusive intolerance of critics and a level of politicization the office hasn’t seen in decades – if ever.
Much of what’s gone wrong in the office is illustrated by the mishandling of a single case. Lynn Dalsing, a former Longbranch woman, was charged in 2010 with joining her husband in sexually abusing their daughter. Her husband was convicted.
Dalsing was arrested and held for months, partly on the basis of photographic evidence that prosecutors had learned was spurious. The charges were dropped, and she was set free. After she filed a lawsuit against the county, the prosecutor’s office revived the criminal charges.
Early this year, Superior Court Judge Edmund Murphy reached the rare and damning finding that the office had engaged in “vindictive prosecution” – employing criminal charges against a plaintiff exercising a civil right (suing the government in this instance).
The Dalsing blunders have spawned no end of legal repercussions, including expensive litigation with a Pierce County detective, Mike Ames. Ames challenged the office’s handling of the Dalsing case. In response, prosecutors formally impugned his credibility as a witness in court and tried to slam him with $118,000 in legal fees.
These and other problems eventually led two deputy prosecutors, Steve Merrival and Steve Penner, to turn whistleblower and go public with a list of allegations of abuses and mismanagement. Hence outside attorney Mark Busto’s investigation.
It should be noted that Busto dismissed some of the whistleblower complaints. There’s no evidence he was on a mission to smear Lindquist.
Some of the most disturbing passages in Busto’s report concern retaliatory treatment of defense attorneys who signed declarations in support of Ames. Lindquist derided them as a “confederacy of dunces”; deputy prosecutors told Busto that they were told not to offer the defenders “good deals” or “no special favors.” In several instances, they report being chastised for simple friendliness toward members of the “confederacy.”
This is very serious. A judge who learns a defendant’s attorney was on what may have been an enemy’s list has good reason to suspect the defendant may not have received equal treatment from the prosecution. At best, the appearance of justice is harmed. At worst, a miscarriage of justice has occurred.
Evidence of politicization includes suspicious reassignments of deputies unhappy with Lindquist and his vigorous and brazen efforts to make judges of his favorite deputies. We’ve been concerned for some time about his highly public endorsements of proteges running for seats on the bench. At the very least, the appearance of justice is at risk.
One unsurprising finding is that Lindquist is very fond of publicity, so much so that he reportedly exploited Maurice Clemmons’ murder of four Lakewood police officers as an opportunity to appear in front of the cameras.
Lindquist disputes nearly every allegation against him. But even giving him the benefit of every doubt, his actions have cost the county more than $1 million in legal and other expenses, and they have produced an alarming number of complaints from the legal community. The Washington Bar Association is now weighing whether allegations against him warrant discipline.
We can’t help but contrast the prosecutor’s office today to what it was under the leadership of Lindquist’s two most recent predecessors, Gerry Horne and John Ladenburg. They generated nothing like this volume of antagonism and accusations of abuse.
In recent conversations with this newspaper’s editorial board, Lindquist has acknowledged mistakes and talked of changes in his approach to the office. That would be welcome. Absent a spectacular turnaround, though, the recall campaign is the citizenry’s best available recourse.