A state senator seeking to lead Pierce County as its next executive wants to intervene in one of the biggest legal issues facing the county right now: Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.
Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said he is preparing legislation that would allow county governments to seek help from the state attorney general when the county prosecutor is accused of wrongdoing or of having a conflict of interest.
Dammeier said the legislation would apply statewide, but is prompted by the current situation in Pierce County, where County Executive Pat McCarthy has sued to try to force Lindquist to step away from a case concerning the disclosure of text messages sent from his personal cellphone.
McCarthy has argued that Lindquist can’t represent his personal interests and those of taxpayers at the same time. Lindquist contends there is no conflict. Arguments in that case are scheduled for Friday (Dec. 18).
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Under Dammeier’s proposal, County Council members could ask the state attorney general’s office to weigh in on whether an outside attorney is warranted in such cases.
If the attorney general says yes, the County Council could either hire an independent attorney or contract with the attorney general’s office for representation.
“In the exceptional circumstance where there’s a question about a prosecutor, the county needs an option to go forward around the current statute, which requires that the prosecutor be in charge of everything,” Dammeier said Monday.
Dan Hamilton, a deputy prosecutor in Lindquist’s office, wrote in an email that Lindquist already approved two outside attorneys to serve as special deputy prosecutors on the phone records case “to address even the appearance” of a conflict of interest.
Under current state law, the County Council has no ability to override or replace the attorneys Lindquist appointed to represent the county in the case, said Susan Long, the council’s attorney.
“Ultimately, the decision rests with the prosecutor,” Long said.
By going to court, McCarthy is seeking the court’s intervention to appoint outside attorneys of her own choosing, independent of the prosecutor’s office.
Dammeier, who is running for Pierce County executive in 2016, said the legislation wouldn’t affect him if he is elected next year, because it would place the authority to seek an outside attorney with County Council members, not the county executive.
Dammeier faces two County Council members next year in his bid for the county’s top elected position: Councilman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, and Councilman Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma.
Roach has publicly questioned whether the county needs to employ additional outside attorneys in the Lindquist matter. On Monday, he said he is satisfied with the two attorneys Lindquist recently approved to represent the county and thinks they will act independently in the case.
Earlier this month, Roach sent a letter to two other outside attorneys retained by McCarthy, saying their services are not wanted.
Talbert, on the other hand, supports McCarthy’s move to ask a judge to decide if a conflict exists.
Dammeier said he plans to file his bill this week. Once filed, it will be considered by the Legislature during the session that starts Jan. 11.