Judge voids part of DOC official’s ethics breach

A state Department of Corrections manager did not violate state ethics rules when, on DOC time, she worked on a faith-based program she founded that helps felons’ reentry into society after their release from prison, a judge ruled Friday.

On the contrary, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor said that DOC manager Belinda Stewart’s work with the Faith Based Reentry Coalition could reasonably be construed as part of her normal DOC job duties.

Tabor reasoned that the DOC has an active interest in helping felons’ re-entry into society after their release, and in promoting community safety by reducing those felons’ recidivism.

However, Tabor did not reverse the state Executive Ethics Board’s findings that Stewart violated ethics rules by using a DOC computer for an outside job. She used the computer to store files for her other job as a “new warden trainer” for the federal National Institute of Corrections.

As a result of Tabor’s rulings, Stewart’s fines were reduced by $5,000. She now must pay $8,400 for her single ethics violation, her attorney Saxon Rodgers said.

“She’s been totally exonerated of any wrongdoing except for one technical violation,” Rodgers said.

However, Assistant Attorney General Chad Standifer, who represented the ethics board, responded, “There’s no such thing as a ‘technical violation.’ It’s either a violation, or it isn’t.”

Stewart is a communications and outreach manager for the DOC. Corrections officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

During Friday’s hearing, Standifer argued that the ethics board was correct in fining Stewart for her work with the Faith Based Reentry Coalition because it is a private group that does not benefit DOC employees.

But Tabor said the work does benefit DOC, in that the Corrections Department has a direct role in helping reduce recidivism for inmates after their release from prison.

Rodgers had also asked Tabor to reduce Stewart’s remaining $8,400 fine, and consider whether it was “arbitrary and capricious.” In his oral ruling, Tabor said the arbitrary and capricious standard is “an extremely high standard” that was not met.

Rodgers said his client is disappointed about the $8,400 fine.

“It’s a lot of money,” Rodgers said.

Both Rodgers and Standifer said their clients are considering whether to appeal Tabor’s ruling.