Special Reports

Doubts raised about prosecutor's role

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge, who's leading the investigation into David Brame's career, is no stranger to Tacoma politics and personalities.

It's at least the third time Hauge's office has been asked to look into suspected misdeeds by Tacoma figures.

In 1998, Hauge investigated City Manager Ray Corpuz's wife in an insurance fraud case. The same year, one of Hauge's deputies prosecuted the city manager's son for drunken driving and possession of marijuana.

In each case, Hauge's office was chosen because Tacoma and Pierce County officials wanted to avoid a conflict of interest.

The connection between Hauge and Tacoma began earlier. When he first took office as Kitsap prosecutor in 1995, Mayor Bill Baarsma's future wife was that county's assessor.

Hauge, 51, also attended the Baarsmas' wedding.

That connection doesn't sit well with Tacoma City Councilwoman Sharon McGavick.

"If the primary (Brame) investigator had been at my wedding four years ago, I would feel that was a conflict and I would ask that person not to be the primary investigator," said McGavick, repeating concerns she brought up at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

McGavick's concerns echoed a common sentiment among residents who criticized the council Tuesday night for not reaching farther afield for investigators.

There doesn't appear to be anything inappropriate in Hauge's appointment as a special attorney in the case, two legal experts said.

"For example, a prosecutor who is acquainted with a suspect or a criminal defendant is not prohibited from prosecuting that case," said Gary Williams, who is president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association.

Hauge insists there's no conflict.

When Carol Baarsma was the Kitsap assessor, he saw her only in professional settings, Hauge said.

"I never went to her home," he said. "She never went to mine. ... In fact, she supported my opponent when I ran for election in 1994."

Hauge said he went to the Baarsmas' wedding as "a courtesy."

And even though Hauge, as Kitsap County prosecutor, was the chief legal counsel for the assessor's office, he represented Kitsap County, not Carol Baarsma, said Stew Menefee, president of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

"She can't hire him and she can't fire him," Menefee said. "And oftentimes, prosecutors work against county officials."

In 1998, Hauge handled an investigation into a fraudulent insurance claim Lynda Corpuz filed with Safeco Insurance Co. following a 1997 burglary at the Corpuz home.

Then-Pierce County Prosecutor John Ladenburg asked Hauge's office to take over the case, citing a conflict of interest in Ladenburg's personal and professional friendship with Ray Corpuz.

At Hauge's recommendation, Lynda Corpuz, a first-time offender, was given probation after admitting she filed $10,000 worth of false insurance claims.

Hauge concluded Ray Corpuz wasn't involved in the scheme.

Hauge also investigated then-Tacoma Police Chief Philip Arreola, but determined he did not criminally interfere when he told Ray Corpuz that an insurance company had asked Tacoma police about Lynda Corpuz.

Also in 1998, Tacoma police arrested Ray Corpuz's son, Dito P. Corpuz, then in his early 20s, on suspicion of drunken driving and possession of marijuana.

A Hauge deputy handled that case at the request of the Tacoma city attorney. Dito Corpuz pleaded guilty to the marijuana charge and was later found guilty of the DUI charge by a judge.

News Tribune staff writer Kris Sherman contributed to this report.

Stefano Esposito: 253-597-8644