Prosecutor Lindquist admits wrongdoing, staving off disciplinary hearing

Prosecutor Lindquist accepts admonition from bar association

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist's shifting statements regarding "Nancy Grace" appearance. He recently accepted a rare admonition from the bar association.
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Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist's shifting statements regarding "Nancy Grace" appearance. He recently accepted a rare admonition from the bar association.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, facing a possible disciplinary hearing before the Washington State Bar Association, accepted something resembling a plea bargain this week.

That means he won’t face the hearing regarding his alleged misconduct during a murder trial. It was scheduled to begin Dec. 10 and feature testimony from him and other witnesses, including his subordinates.

Instead, Lindquist agreed to accept an admonition from the association: the lowest form of discipline.

It also means his license to practice law won’t be suspended, though the admonition becomes a permanent public asterisk on his legal disciplinary record, viewable by anyone: a rare occurrence for an elected prosecutor.

In an agreement signed Nov. 26, Lindquist admitted violating the rules of professional conduct governing lawyers and prosecutors during the 2016 murder trial.

Specifically, he appeared on the Nancy Grace legal talk show and commented inappropriately on the defendant’s potential guilt. The appearance came on the eve of closing arguments while jurors were on recess. Records of the bar complaint that followed state he was warned against appearing on the show, which is no longer on the air.

The language of Lindquist’s admission is cloaked in legalese; essentially he states that he didn’t mean to break the rules.

“Although Respondent did not intend to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, Respondent recognizes that the statements and comments he made on Nancy Grace contained inferences he made that went beyond facts contained in the public record,” the agreement states. “Respondent stipulates that he violated RPC 3.6 and 3.8(f).”

The rules govern trial publicity. In part, they warn prosecutors to “refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused.”

In his Nancy Grace appearance, Lindquist referred to the defendant, Skylar Nemetz, who was accused of murder following the death of his wife, Danielle. During his TV appearance, Lindquist said Nemetz’s actions “add up to murder.”

The broadcast appalled the local legal community, especially defense attorney Michael Stewart, who represented Nemetz. Stewart moved for a mistrial after the broadcast, referring to Lindquist’s action as “a first-rate hatchet job.”

The mistrial motion was denied at the time. Ultimately, Nemetz, who denied that he intended to kill his wife, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter.

Asked for comment Wednesday regarding the admonition of Lindquist, Stewart offered a brief comment.

“I’m pleased that he accepted some responsibility, even if the sanction pales in comparison to his transgression against our whole justice system,” he said.

The canceled disciplinary hearing includes another effect: county taxpayers won’t have to spend any additional money to underwrite Lindquist’s defense.

In mid-October, he asked members of the County Council to lift a statutory lid on costs associated with defending the complaint and the pending hearing. At the time, the bill stood at roughly $62,000. A rough estimate of additional costs suggested that legal bills associated with the hearing could increase by $100,000.

Council members, uneasy about such spending, declined Lindquist’s request and suggested a more detailed accounting of the legal billing before they would consider it again.

The agreement with the bar association adds a quiet coda to Lindquist’s nine-year tenure in office. On Nov. 6, his bid for a third term ended in a lopsided loss to Mary Robnett, an assistant attorney general who once served as Lindquist’s chief criminal deputy, but grew disenchanted with his leadership.

Throughout his two terms in office, Lindquist sought publicity aggressively, pumping out hundreds of press releases featuring his quotes about defendants charged with crimes. He appeared frequently on TV and radio, as well as in traditional print media. The 2016 Nancy Grace appearance marked the second time Lindquist appeared with the host, who was known for mocking defendants.

Linquist made no secret of his spotlight-seeking, and contended it was part of his job, though it also boosted his name recognition in the political sense.

When the bar complaint related to the Nancy Grace appearance was filed, Lindquist denied wrongdoing, and said his cameo on the show reflected his duty to communicate with the public.

Asked for comment Wednesday, Lindquist did not respond directly. His attorney, Steven Fogg, spoke for him, issuing an emailed statement that amounted to a declaration of victory.

“We are pleased to have resolved this matter via an admonition. An admonition — a finger wag in lay terms — is the least serious resolution offered by the State Bar. ... We’ve said from the beginning that there was a zero point zero percent chance of suspension. Today we’ve been proven right.

“Prosecutor Lindquist has always believed it is his duty to keep the public informed, and that is what he sought to do in this case. Prosecutor Lindquist believed the statements he made were well within the boundaries observed by prosecutors across the state for decades. ...The fact that this matter was resolved as an admonition demonstrates that Prosecutor Lindquist did not intend to violate bar rules and acted in good faith.”

While bar association representatives did not comment directly on Fogg’s assessment, the notice of admonition offers one counterpoint: It states that, “Respondent negligently failed to follow proper procedures and rules,” and “Respondent caused potential injury to a party and potential injury to the integrity of the legal process.”

The stipulated agreement between Lindquist and the bar association refers to the reasoning behind admonition rather than harsher sanctions such as a reprimand or suspension of his legal license — possibilities mentioned by bar association investigators during earlier stages of the disciplinary process.

The agreement cites a mixture of factors: Lindquist had substantial experience (23 years) in the practice of law, and theoretically understood the rules, but he also had a clean record with no prior discipline, and reportedly showed remorse for his actions.

Defense attorney John Cain, who filed the original bar complaint against Lindquist, saw little evidence of remorse, and said the bar association’s agreement sent the wrong message.

“He had months to show remorse. He never did when he requested money. He never did in any public statement,” Cain said Wednesday. “He’s a lawyer. He manipulated the media. He should have known the rules.

“It’s on his record. I’m glad the county didn’t have to spend any more money, and for him to come to the realization that he should at least say he had remorse. He certainly had a good lawyer. It’s time for us to move forward. I hope that he does as well.”

News Tribune investigative reporter Sean Robinson won the 2016 Ted Natt First Amendment award for ongoing scrutiny of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s office. Since 2000, he has produced award-winning coverage related to criminal justice, government accountability and public disclosure.