Possible new headache for Lindquist: An ethics probe

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist chats with a constituent at a fundraiser in Tacoma on July 30.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist chats with a constituent at a fundraiser in Tacoma on July 30. Staff photographer

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist faces a possible ethics probe tied to findings from a recent whistleblower investigation.

Findings from the investigation by outside attorney Mark Busto have been sent to the county’s Ethics Commission, according to an Oct. 23 letter to Lindquist from Ginny Dale, director of the county’s Human Resources Division. The News Tribune obtained the letter through a public disclosure request.

“Because the results include findings that potentially implicate the Pierce County Code of Ethics, a copy of this report will be sent to the chair of the county Ethics Commission,” the letter states.

The letter does not specify which findings in the 67-page report might relate to the ethics code. It also notes that the county executive has limited authority to oversee or sanction the independently elected prosecutor.

The letter was delivered to Lindquist last week, along with a copy of the whistleblower report. Asked for comment Tuesday, he provided an email statement:

“We are committed to constant improvement. While we disagree with some of the misrepresentations and gossip in the report because they do a disservice to our hard working staff, we have reviewed the recommendations and will fix any issues that need to be addressed so we can focus everyone in the office on making our community safer and serving the public.”

The ethics commission, a five-member body appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the County Council, meets once a month. It reviews complaints of possible ethics violations, overseen by a hearing officer.

The commission has the power to hold hearings and impose fines, but much of its activity is confidential.

The letter notes that Dale has the authority to take “action as appropriate” on whistleblower complaints. It includes a series of recommendations from Dale to Lindquist regarding management of his office.

“I am making several recommendations in the hope that they may be helpful to you as your office moves forward to serve the citizens of Pierce County,” the letter states. “These recommendations should not be considered the only course of action.”

In part, Dale’s letter urges Lindquist to take the following steps:

Clarify the prosecutor’s policies regarding disclosure of so-called “Brady” material, i.e., evidence that might be relevant to defendants facing criminal charges.

Clarify the separation of political activity from the work of the prosecutor’s office, and address the “widely-held perception” that political activity leads to advancement.

Provide greater transparency in personnel decisions and reassignments. “The belief that some reassignments are made to punish problem employees is especially deserving of your attention.”

Preserve the integrity of union rights and positions. Busto’s report found that Lindquist closely monitored union activities.

Address and clarify the treatment of older deputy prosecutors and their positions. Busto’s report cited multiple examples of veteran prosecutors being transferred or reassigned to make way for younger employees.

Document personnel issues as they occur. “Raising past issues well after the original event or incident occurred may appear to be retaliatory and opens your office up to criticism that the personnel decision was made for an improper reason.”

Avoid using physical appearance as a basis for hiring. “The physical appearance of any candidate for employment should play no role in the hiring process.”

Do not retaliate against employees. “Any form of retaliation against the complainant(s) and/or any person who participates in a complaint or investigation is prohibited by law.”

The recommendations and the possible inquiry by the Ethics Commission do not end the investigative process.

Busto, the investigator hired by the Human Resources Division, is in the midst of completing at least two separate reports addressing claims of retaliation by Lindquist against his employees. Results of those reports are pending.

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