County settles another Lindquist-related bill, pays sheriff’s deputy $950,000

With little fanfare, Pierce County Council members voted Tuesday to pay one of the last lingering legal bills associated with former Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

By a unanimous vote, members agreed to pay $950,000 to retired sheriff’s deputy Glenda Nissen, ending a bitter 8-year battle over Lindquist’s text messages and associated claims that he retaliated against Nissen for criticizing him politically.

While the settlement represents a big number, the underlying costs are greater. Adding in prior legal costs and fees paid to outside attorneys, the real bill exceeds $2.35 million, according to county records.

Members offered no statements explaining their vote. The only comment came from Councilman Derek Young.

“It’s two cases,” he said. “A public records case and a tort that’s being settled together.”

Asked for comment Tuesday, Nissen offered a brief statement via email:

“The threat of Lindquist is gone,” she said. “I appreciate the council and staff working cooperatively to resolve these matters with me amicably. It’s time to move on.”

The quick statements from the parties understate the story behind the settlement, a saga that spanned most of Lindquist’s tenure in office and became a campaign issue last year during his unsuccessful bid for a third term.

During the campaign, Nissen supported Mary Robnett, a former attorney general and deputy prosecutor who defeated Lindquist in November. Robnett played no role in the settlement decision regarding Nissen; local statutes delegate such authority to the council.

The legal costs reflect a two-front battle over two legal actions filed by Nissen.

The first, filed in 2011, sought access to text messages from Lindquist’s private phone. The case traveled to the state Supreme Court and back, leading first to a ruling requiring disclosure of the messages. The messages revealed Lindquist’s attempts to manipulate online reactions to a news story regarding Nissen. Throughout the life of the case, he contended that the messages were private and that his actions related to campaigning, not public business.

A second lower-court order required disclosure of nine more text messages and found Lindquist had violated the state public Records Act. Lindquist disclosed the messages last year, calling them trivial. Primarily, they revealed petty office gossip among subordinates.

The second case, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, accused Lindquist and his subordinates of trying to damage Nissen’s reputation and destroy her career. One searing allegation, backed by public records, revealed that prosecutors tried to blackball Nissen after she was assigned in 2015 to investigate sexual assault cases against child victims. High-ranking prosecutors ordered subordinates not to speak with Nissen or use the evidence she gathered.

Tuesday’s council vote ends the federal lawsuit, which had reached the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and generated more than $700,000 in legal bills paid by the county.

It also ends the text-message case for good, though technically the county had already lost it. Following last year’s ruling ordering disclosure of the nine messages, the county appealed as a bargaining ploy, seeking leverage in both active cases.

Tuesday’s vote closes most of the county’s Lindquist-related obligations. Last month, council members agreed to pay $108,000 for legal bills related to Lindquist’s defense of a bar complaint that led to a reprimand.

Only one active case remains, tied to another former sheriff’s deputy, Mike Ames, who sued the county in 2016, arguing as Nissen did that Lindquist and subordinates sought to ruin his career. The Ames case could become the focus of settlement discussions in the weeks to come. To date, it has generated about $700,000 in legal bills.

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.