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Petition to recall Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist filed

It’s official: Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist is under siege.

He faces a recall campaign, adding to a multiplying list of woes. Recall backers filed a petition with the county auditor Wednesday

The petition — the prelude to a court hearing, a possible signature drive and an election — tags Lindquist with 12 charges of misconduct.

They include vindictive prosecution and obstruction of justice; violation of employment discrimination laws; misuse of public funds; creating a racially hostile workplace; and abuse of power.

Fircrest resident and businesswoman Cheryl Iseberg signed the statement of charges.

She said she became interested in the issue after reading stories in The News Tribune.

“I felt obligated to step forward,” she said Wednesday. “As a taxpayer, I’m appalled. It’s very upsetting and alarming to know that someone could spend our taxpayer money on self-interest.”

Iseberg said recall backers include concerned citizens and local attorneys.

“If someone doesn’t do it, then he will continue to be in the position that he is,” she said. “I think it’s the right thing to do and there’s many people behind me looking for this to happen. He’s created an environment of fear.”

Asked for comment, Lindquist replied with an emailed statement.

“Every day we hear from people asking us to keep up the good work and protect the community. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. As (Seattle Seahawks quarterback) Russell Wilson recently said, we’re going to tune out the noise and focus on our jobs.”

Many of the charges in the 39-page petition echo circumstances described in two whistleblower complaints - one filed by deputy prosecutor Steven Merrival - and a bar complaint filed against Lindquist over the past six weeks.

The recall petition adds detail to some of the allegations in those complaints, and includes one revelation: the author of the second whistleblower complaint is Stephen Penner, Lindquist’s chief criminal deputy.

Penner recently waived confidentiality provisions tied to his May 21 complaint, which is one of the attachments filed with the recall petition. He declined comment when reached by The News Tribune.

Tacoma attorney Jeff Helsdon drafted the recall petition on behalf of the recall committee, a nonprofit corporation formed earlier this month, according to records from the Secretary of State’s office.

Iseberg leads the committee, but backers of the campaign refer to it as collective effort. The campaign has an active Facebook page and is accepting donations for the recall effort.

Filing the petition starts a ticking clock and several steps.

The first is an expedited hearing in Superior Court to weigh the merits of the petition. At that hearing, yet to be scheduled, a judge will decide whether the charges meet the legal standards that would allow the recall process to continue.

The threshold is lower than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard in criminal cases. Under state law, recall hearings do not reach verdicts or findings of truth. Instead, judges function more like referees. They decide whether recall charges, if true, would pass the test of “legal and factual sufficiency.”

If the recall petition meets that standard, backers would have six months to gather 38,642 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The number, confirmed by the county auditor’s office, reflects a standard described in state law: 25 percent of all ballots cast for the office in question in the most recent general election.

Lindquist was re-elected to a second term in November 2014. He ran unopposed, garnering 148,467 votes. Another 6,099 votes went to write-in candidates.

Barring an appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court if the petition is deemed valid in lower court, and assuming sufficient signatures, a recall election could be slated for April 2016.

Staff graphic
Staff graphic

The recall charges refer to Lindquist’s actions in several legal cases, as well as the way he runs his office. Here are the highlights:

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Vindictive prosecution

The charge relates to a long-running sex-abuse case, dismissed in March because of prosecutorial misconduct and vindictiveness.

Prosecutors charged former Longbranch resident Lynn Dalsing with molesting her then-7-year-old daughter on the basis of a child pornography photo withheld from her defense attorney that proved to have nothing to do with Dalsing.

“Mr. Lindquist violated his oath of office in his vindictive prosecution of Lynn Dalsing, withholding of evidence, and obstruction of justice,” the recall petition states. “His misconduct also amounts to misfeasance and malfeasance in office.”

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Misuse of public funds

The charge refers to the defense of a case involving Lindquist’s personal phone records, recently argued before the State Supreme Court.

Friend-of-the-court briefs filed by public employee unions were drafted by Lindquist’s deputy prosecutors and presented as independent, according to the charges. Relying on his own employees to write briefs that defend his interests on behalf of private entities constitutes a gift of public funds, the petition alleges.

In the same vein, the petition notes Lindquist hired a private attorney to defend him in the phone-records case, and billed the county for those services.

The attorney, Stewart Estes, has represented the county in other matters, and received $358,000 in legal fees for that work. The petition characterizes those exchanges as a quid pro quo.

“Nowhere in the budget or in any other appropriation or reserve is Mr. Lindquist authorized by Pierce County to cause the county to pay his private lawyers who are representing him personally in lawsuits against the county in which he has personally intervened,” the petition states.

“Yet, he has rewarded his private lawyers over $358,000 in county legal work.”

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Selective prosecution

The petition contends Lindquist pays extra attention to criminal cases that receive media attention, and seeks harsher penalties for defendants in such cases.

The charges list one example: a case involving a man accused of embezzling money from a school district. The case was dismissed after the defendant paid restitution; Lindquist reportedly admonished the prosecutors who allowed it, the petition states.

“By making decisions based not on justice, which Mr. Lindquist dismisses as merely a platitude, but on his own narcissistic desire to advance his public persona, Mr. Lindquist has performed the duties of his office in an improper manner, and has neglected or failed to perform faithfully the duty imposed on him by law,” the petition states.

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Evading public disclosure

The petition, echoing the whistleblower complaints, states that Lindquist directs his staff members to avoid creating public records regarding business at the office, and admonishes those who fail to do so.

It also accuses him of creating misleading public records to damage political foes. One new allegation contends Lindquist created an email disparaging Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend to hurt her political campaign, in anticipation of a records request that would disclose the insult.

“Mr. Lindquist has engaged in wrongful conduct … by attempting to scuttle the Public Records Act and to use it to practice Dirty Tricks on elected officials who he has targeted for retribution,” the petition states.

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Intimidation

The charge refers to Lindquist’s alleged monitoring of personal communications of his employees outside the office, including Facebook posts by spouses and partners. One such post came from Penner’s fiancee, the complaint states. Another came from Merrival’s wife.

Both men later were admonished by Lindquist and his chief of staff about those posts, according the whistleblower complaints and the recall petition.

It adds that employees perceived to oppose Lindquist are demoted or “exiled” to less-favored assignments, and refers to his monitoring of union activities.

In one case, Lindquist reportedly directed deputy prosecutors to urge support of his favored candidates for union positions, and admonished those who spoke against his efforts, according to the complaint.

The petition refers to other examples of electioneering on public time, including directing employees how to vote in local bar association elections and maintaining a whiteboard at the prosecutor’s office listing employees who voted.

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‘Enemies List’

The complaint refers to Lindquist’s alleged shunning and intimidation of a group of defense attorneys who filed declarations in a civil lawsuit that opposed actions by the prosecutor’s office.

Lindquist dubbed these attorneys “the confederacy of dunces,” according to the petition and Penner’s whistleblower complaint. He ordered his deputies not to give those defense attorneys favorable deals in plea bargains, threatening the rights of criminal defendants, the petition contends.

“Mr. Lindquist’s creation of an Enemies List and his direction to his staff to violate the constitutional rights of the lawyers on it is antithetical to any notion of justice,” the petition states.

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Racially hostile workplace

The petition refers to Lindquist’s treatment of minorities in his office, including Merrival, a member of the Lakota Tribe. Seeing Merrival outside the courthouse one day, Lindquist reportedly asked, “Are you going to the casino?”

On another occasion, Lindquist reportedly told Merrival that tribal members shouldn’t receive monetary payments “because they just use the money to buy guns,” the petition states.

The petition also notes Lindquist assigned a caseload to an African-American deputy prosecutor where the defendants were predominantly African-American.

It adds that Lindquist admonished deputy prosecutor Diane Clarkson, also African American, after she spoke in favor of the Tacoma-Pierce County Minority Bar Association’s role in evaluating judicial candidates. The minority bar group later was removed from participation in such evaluations, reportedly at Lindquist’s urging.

“Mr. Lindquist’s office does not have any person of color or of ethnic minority status in his administration,” the petition states. “Minorities are not well-represented among DPAs and the office does not reflect the diversity of the community.”

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Employment discrimination

The charge refers to Lindquist’s alleged practice of hiring female employees based on their physical attractiveness rather than qualifications.

The allegation appears in whistleblower complaints filed by deputy prosecutor Steven Merrival as well as Penner’s subsequent complaint. It notes that Lindquist rejected recommendations from his deputies to hire more qualified job candidates even if they didn’t meet his standard of attractiveness.

“(Lindquist) knowingly failed to perform the duty imposed on him to refrain from such discriminatory practices,” the recall petition states.

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