Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist has never been accused of keeping a low profile. An official who runs for re-election every four years and serves as the face of law and justice in a county of 832,000 people doesn’t get to fly under the radar, even if he wants to.
But Lindquist — a published novelist who once pitched starring in a reality TV show called “The Prosecutor” — clearly doesn’t want to. Not even when good sense and professional protocol suggest he should. Not even when a litany of embarrassments — a judge’s ruling of prosecutorial vindictiveness, three lawsuits, a complaint to the state bar association and a whistleblower investigation — might persuade others in a similar situation to lie low for a while.
Lindquist found the limelight again last week when he appeared on the “Nancy Grace” cable-television talk show. In a live phone interview with Grace, a former-prosecutor-turned-provocateur known for her shrill and sensational format, Lindquist answered questions about the first-degree murder trial of Skylar Nemetz. The former JBLM soldier is charged with shooting his wife, Danielle, in the back of the head in their Lakewood apartment. A jury began deliberating Tuesday.
Defense attorney Michael Stewart filed a motion for a mistrial Monday, contending Lindquist’s phone date with Grace compromised Nemetz’s expectation of a fair trial. The judge denied the motion for lack of evidence that jurors had seen or heard of the program.
Still, Lindquist’s penchant for publicity could have placed his deputies’ work in jeopardy and put Danielle’s loved ones through the agony of a lost conviction.
Now that the defense has planted an allegation of prejudice, there’s a possibility it could return to haunt the prosecutor on appeal if Nemetz is convicted. This is an area where Lindquist’s office has shown vulnerability, having led the state in reversals of felony convictions for prosecutorial misconduct between January 2013 and April 2015.
A pair of Fox News legal eagles picked up on this possibility Tuesday. Correspondent Lis Wiehl said Lindquist was “not smart” to go on Grace’s show and might end up “ruing the day” he did, if the misconduct charge catches the eye of an appeals court judge.
From “Nancy Grace” to Fox News to who-knows-where-else, Lindquist’s extracurricular comments about the Nemetz case have gone viral. And that’s precisely why he shouldn’t have done the interview.
The statements Lindquist made on the show were fairly neutral talking points, especially compared to Grace’s trademark ungracefulness, although he crept close to the line by saying the elements of the case against Nemetz “add up to murder.”
Where things get complicated is that a prosecutor owes a duty to many stakeholders: winning firm convictions on behalf of victims’ families, ensuring fair treatment to defendants, providing impartial information to juries and conveying an aura of evenhandedness to the public.
This last duty can’t be overlooked. The special responsibilities of a prosecutor, spelled out in the state bar association’s code of professional conduct, include a warning against making out-of-court comments “with a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused.” Anyone who’s watched 30 seconds of Nancy Grace knows that heightening condemnation is her (stale) bread and (rancid) butter.
Lindquist said in an interview Tuesday he doesn’t discriminate between media outlets when spreading the word of his office’s good work. He said he might reconsider his ecumenical approach after learning more about Grace’s show, whose format he claimed he was unfamiliar with (even though he also did her show in December 2014 — again talking about the Nemetz case).
Refraining from doing talk shows during murder trials would be a smart call. Agreeing to appear on a notoriously bombastic Punch and Judy Show where defendants are presumed guilty until proven innocent? As the Fox correspondent noted, that wasn’t smart.