For seven years, defense attorney Andrew Morrison didn’t know he’d been called a “d-bag” and “an evil Harry Potter” by staffers at the Pierce County Prosecutor’s office.
Morrison, 35, works for the state’s Office of Public Defense, providing legal representation to indigent defendants. At the time the text messages were written in 2011, he was in his late 20s, starting out his legal career as a public defender for Pierce County’s Department of Assigned Counsel.
In a recent interview, he said another attorney told him he was the target of the text messages.
“It’s very disappointing,” Morrison said. “I wonder what else has gone on behind the scenes for the last seven or eight years.”
Friday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese is expected to close the book on the long-running text-message case and decide the final price Pierce County will pay for withholding those records. To date, the county has spent $623,441 on the dispute, largely in fees to outside attorneys.
Morrison has no role in the case, apart from being mentioned in the text messages sent to Lindquist by deputy prosecutor Bryce Nelson years ago.
“There’s a rumor going around that this d-bag DAC attorney A. Morrison met w/ (deputy prosecutor Kevin) Benton to try to get us to hire him. Don’t do it!!!!!!!!” Nelson wrote.
Lindquist didn’t respond to the message. Nelson followed up with two more, noting that another deputy prosecutor called Morrison “an evil Harry Potter,” and suggested that Morrison would “try and work here to sabotage us from the inside.”
The News Tribune sought comment from Lindquist Wednesday regarding the messages and asked whether he or any of his subordinates had reached out to Morrison following the disclosure.
Lindquist’s spokesman, James Lynch, replied with a pair of statements. One came from Nelson:
“The texts were my private and personal thoughts to a friend. I respectfully disagree with the trial court’s decision to make these private messages public.”
In a separate statement, Lynch said, “The county had to defend the constitutional principles at stake and the privacy rights of all public employees and their friends and family who contact them. Out of the thousands of records the plaintiff sought, the court only found nine to be public records. While we respectfully disagree with the court’s decision on the nine messages, we have released them and do not intend to appeal.”
Lindquist released the text messages with partial redactions on Jan. 31 in a post on the prosecutor’s office Facebook page. He called the messages trivial. He did not mention Morrison’s name, but he noted that “the person in question never applied for a job at the Prosecutor’s Office.” He added that “no government business was conducted” in the messages.
“I don’t know how (Lindquist) can say that,” he said. “Once you’re in that field or that sphere, you talk with the leadership of the other office, and that’s how you get a career with them. To think that just because I didn’t file an application to their misdemeanor division that this wasn’t public business, that’s an overly narrow view. Anybody who’s practicing in the field would understand that a meeting with one of the divisions to talk about a career, that is public business.”
The underlying lawsuit regarding the text messages was filed by former county sheriff’s deputy Glenda Nissen, who contends Lindquist tried to sabotage her career after she publicly opposed his first campaign for public office in 2010. She sought the text messages created in 2011 to prove her point.
The first phase of the case stretched to the state Supreme Court and back. It ended in 2016, when a judge ruled that one text message from Lindquist’s private phone qualified as a public record. The decision led to an award of $128,000 in fees and fines against the county.
The current case relates to nine more text messages sent in the same 2011 time frame, including those that mention Morrison. Since January, county attorneys and Joan Mell, the lawyer representing Nissen, have argued over the county’s potential costs.
The county wants a lower penalty. Nissen wants a higher number. The numbers being batted back and forth in dueling legal briefs range from approximately $60,000 to more than $2 million.
Under state law, penalties for withholding public records can reach a maximum of $100 per day, per record, though judges have the discretion to set lower amounts, including no penalties at all. A recent unrelated public records case involving the Port of Tacoma led to a penalty of $159,000 for records wrongly withheld for 410 days.
As for Morrison, a recent case brought him to the Pierce County courthouse after the messages were released and he learned his name appeared in them next to the insults. He ran into deputy prosecutors who were also aware of the disclosure.
“It was amazing,” he said. “None of them would even make eye contact with me.”
Apart from believing that the messages mentioning his name qualify as public records, Morrison said they reveal the culture within the prosecutor’s office.
“What it meant was that they perceived me as an enemy,” he said. “You can’t have a worthy opponent. You can only have enemies. I was surprised I was spoken of in that way. I do not typically have those things said about me by my colleagues. I am not experienced with people calling me those names. I am thankful I didn’t pursue a career with that office from what I know now.”