In a series of candidate forums and a Monday meeting with The News Tribune’s editorial board, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist contends he’s taking the high road in his campaign for re-election.
At the same time, he argues that his opponent, assistant attorney general Mary Robnett, who outpointed Lindquist by a surprising margin in the August primary, is punching low when she mentions the various scandals linked to Lindquist’s nine-year tenure.
“I take a kind of old-fashioned high-minded public service approach to politics,” he said Monday. “I don’t believe in that style of dirty politics. I realize that my kind of high-minded public service approach to politics is somewhat dated in this era, but I still stand by it.”
His stated beliefs are one thing. His statements on the trail are another. In the forums and at the editorial board, Lindquist has attacked his opponent. He points out that she faces a bar complaint and a state-level ethics complaint.
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The two complaints were filed by Thurston County activist Glen Morgan, author of a controversial opinion piece published and later removed by the Tacoma Weekly and its publisher, John Weymer, after a quarrel with Lindquist, who distributes printed copies of the opinion piece at candidate forums.
Morgan, a serial filer who targets Democrats exclusively, has filed 361 complaints with the state Public Disclosure Commission against various officials since Jan. 1, 2017. He has filed similar numbers of complaints with the state Attorney General’s office.
His bar complaint accuses Robnett of violating rules of professional conduct for lawyers. The complaint cites a 2016 email exchange between Robnett and deputy prosecutor Greg Greer, a friend and former colleague in the prosecutor’s office. Greer voiced worries that Lindquist would read his emails and discover disparaging comments. Robnett told Greer to delete his email.
She has said she regrets using her public computer for the conversation while adding that she doesn’t regret advising Greer to avoid retaliation. In candidate forums, Lindquist has called Robnett’s actions criminal. His first mention of the bar complaint against Robnett came Sept. 12, at a candidate’s forum in Fife, a day before the complaint was filed.
The bar association won’t act on the complaint immediately. A Sept. 14 letter to Robnett from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel states that “the best course of action at this time is to defer investigation of this matter until the conclusion of the campaign.”
Morgan filed a separate complaint with the state’s Executive Ethics Board in June. He accused Robnett of campaigning with public resources using her state computer. Robnett provided evidence showing online campaign postings were created by her campaign staff.
The board dismissed the complaint on Sept. 14. A letter from the board to Robnett states the reason: “The complaint is obviously unfounded or frivolous.”
During Monday’s meeting with the editorial board, Lindquist repeated a claim he’s made in three candidate forums, saying Robnett was involved in filing multiple bar complaints and ethics complaints against his office.
The wording of the claim varied slightly in each setting. During a Sept. 14 forum at the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, Lindquist phrased it this way: “She and her supporters filed about a dozen frivolous complaints against the county that were dismissed.”
At Monday’s meeting, Lindquist made a similar statement when asked about the costs related to complaints against his office. He said “about two dozen” bar complaints had been filed against his office, and blamed Robnett.
“The only people responsible for the expenses of the bar complaints and the ethics complaints are my opponent and her supporters who filed them, because every one of them that has been adjudicated has been dismissed. They were filed for political purposes.”
In reality, Robnett has not filed any bar complaints against Lindquist, nor did she file ethics complaints or whistleblower complaints against him.
Moreover, an active bar complaint filed against Lindquist in 2016 has not been dismissed. It’s set for a disciplinary hearing in December, after the general election.
According to records compiled by The News Tribune, four bar complaints filed against Lindquist’s office in 2015 and 2016 generated adverse publicity and led to investigations that cost more than $225,000. They were filed more than two years before Robnett decided to run for office.
One bar complaint, filed in June 2015 by local defense attorney John Cain, retired county sheriff’s deputy Michael Ames and deputy prosecutor Steve Merrival, named Lindquist and six of his staffers, citing their conduct and legal tactics in a long-running criminal case that was dismissed due to prosecutorial vindictiveness. The complaint was eventually dismissed after a lengthy investigation.
Another bar complaint came from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Guild, the union representing sheriff’s deputies. Filed in June 2016, it accused Lindquist and deputy prosecutor Mike Sommerfeld of misconduct and retaliation against Ames and Glenda Nissen, another deputy. The complaint has been dismissed.
A third bar complaint came from Robert Underwood, an Army lieutenant colonel charged with felony harassment in 2012. The charges against Underwood were later dismissed. His bar complaint contended that Lindquist made inappropriate statements to the media conveying guilt. Underwood’s complaint has been dismissed.
The fourth bar complaint, also filed by Cain, relates to Lindquist’s ill-fated appearance on the “Nancy Grace” legal talk show in the midst of a murder trial. After investigation, the bar association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel recommended a disciplinary hearing — a rare occurrence for an elected prosecutor. Lindquist faces potential sanctions that include the suspension of his license to practice law.
Asked during Monday’s editorial board meeting how he could suggest all bar complaints against his office have been dismissed, Lindquist said, “Everything that’s been adjudicated has been dismissed.”
Asked about his claim that Robnett was involved in filing bar complaints, Lindquist backpedaled.
“I don’t believe she signed any of the bar complaints,” he said. “She was involved in the ethics complaint. It was dismissed.”
Robnett didn’t file the ethics complaint, though she was a witness during the course of an investigation by the county’s Ethics Commission.
The original ethics referral, which Lindquist described as politically motivated, came from his employer: Pierce County.
In 2015, then-Human Resources director Ginny Dale requested review by the commission after county leaders learned Lindquist had been receiving free legal representation from a private attorney for the previous three years.
The attorney, Stewart Estes, represented Lindquist’s personal interests in a long-running public disclosure case involving text messages on Lindquist’s phone. That dispute ended with legal rulings against Lindquist and the county earlier this year, and a bill that exceeds $1 million.
Estes subsequently received more than $587,000 worth of legal work from the county, representing its interests in other lawsuits.
The ethics investigation examined whether Lindquist’s free legal service coupled with subsequent paid work for Estes constituted a quid pro quo. Lindquist contended it did not. The Ethics Commission’s hearing officer, retired Superior Court Judge Thomas Felnagle, reached the same conclusion.
Robnett’s involvement in the ethics inquiry came after Felnagle concluded his investigation. She was not interviewed, but she sent two letters to Felnagle describing conversations where she was present. She said she heard Lindquist suggest private attorneys could receive taxpayer-funded legal work in exchange for personal favors.
Robnett’s letters were submitted after the investigation ended. Rules in place at the time of the 2016 ethics probe didn’t address consideration of new evidence. The probe ended with a finding that Lindquist didn’t violate the county’s ethics code.
“This is really a frustrating deal, because everybody knows what’s going on, but then you can’t talk about it,” Felnagle said at the time. “The ethics code doesn’t really tell you what do if you have after-acquired material.”