Special Reports

Washam's chief deputy presses on in effort to recall prosecutor

Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam’s chief deputy hasn’t given up his fight to recall county Prosecutor Mark Lindquist from office.

Albert Ugas, Washam’s second-in-command, lost the first round of his recall effort last month. Visiting King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce called the petition “frivolous,” and threw it out of court Nov. 16.

Ugas and his co-petitioner, Dan Fishburn of Sumner, have appealed that ruling to the Washington State Supreme Court. It’s one skirmish in a legal battle that will play out on two fronts over the next several weeks. The key questions will revolve around Washam’s involvement.

The Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on Ugas’ appeal; that decision could take several months. Meanwhile, Ugas and Fishburn have been ordered to answer questions from Lindquist’s attorneys in separate depositions.

Cayce’s earlier decision to throw out the recall petition opened the door to a new argument: Lindquist wants Ugas and Fishburn to pay attorney fees associated with his legal defense.

To collect, Lindquist must clear a high legal bar. Cayce deemed the petition “frivolous,” but that’s not enough to recover fees. Prior recall cases (including one that involved Washam) have established that the targets of failed petitions must prove “bad faith” to collect attorney fees.

That’s why Lindquist’s attorneys want to depose Ugas and Fishburn. They argue that the two men filed a deliberately frivolous recall petition for the purpose of harassment – perhaps in collusion with Washam, who has railed at Lindquist for much of this year.

Washam did not sign the recall petition, but his shadow looms behind it. He has repeatedly criticized Lindquist’s refusal to support an investigation into past practices of the assessor-treasurer’s office. He has publicly referred to Lindquist as “incompetent.”

Ugas’ recall petition, filed less than a week before the November election (Lindquist was on the ballot), echoed Washam’s complaints and included material previously compiled and published by Washam.

At the time, Ugas said he wrote the petition himself, but admitted he “picked Washam’s brain” beforehand.

Washam, though not an attorney, is familiar with state laws governing recall of elected officials. Five times between 1995 and 2005, he tried and failed to recall opponents who defeated him in elections, and pushed some of the cases to the Supreme Court.

Lindquist’s attorneys believe Washam’s potential involvement is a relevant factor in the bad-faith question.

“We think we ought to make that inquiry,” said Perrin Walker, one of the attorneys representing Lindquist. “It’s a very serious argument.”

Ugas did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment. In a court brief filed Dec. 3, he objected to being deposed. He called it “a brazen attempt to intimidate citizens rightfully engaged in a political process.”

He argued that Cayce’s earlier decision on the recall petition was wrong because the judge didn’t hear his arguments. The brief doesn’t mention that Ugas refused to show up in court when arguments were made.

The brief includes several arguments on recall law. It closes with Washam’s favored parting words on correspondence: “In God we trust.”

The court’s latest order requires Ugas and Fishburn to answer questions and to supply any written notes or communications related to the recall petition, “including but not limited to communications with Dale Washam.”

The deposition is scheduled for the morning of Dec. 16. Coincidentally, Washam faces his own recall hearing later the same day. Superior Court Judge Thomas Felnagle will hear arguments from Washam and Robin Farris, a Puyallup resident who has filed a recall petition seeking to oust Washam from office.

Felnagle will rule on the legal and factual sufficiency of Farris’ petition. A finding of sufficiency would allow the recall effort to proceed, and allow Farris to begin collecting signatures. She would need about 78,000 – 25 percent of the ballots cast in Washam’s 2008 election – for a special election to proceed.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486Sean.robinson@thenewstribune.com