Deep into the second page of your ballot, tucked away in the bottom corner, two names are listed as contenders for Pierce County prosecuting attorney.
Don’t be fooled by the inconspicuous ballot placement; this is the marquee matchup of the 2018 election.
Voters must decide whether to retain Mark Lindquist, the two-term prosecutor who turned the office into a nexus of headline-grabbing dysfunction, or entrust it to Mary Robnett, the challenger who was once among his most reliable deputies.
Let’s not minimize what’s at stake here; Lindquist holds the single most powerful local elected post. He’s vested with authority to administer justice, a platform to send people to prison and the duty to project even-handed treatment to the public.
The choice to us is clear: Voters should reject Lindquist’s political and incorrigibly self-promotional management style. They should elect someone who won’t cost the public the more than $2 million in bills (and counting) on legal misadventures he’s rung up at taxpayer expense.
They should choose Robnett as Pierce County prosecutor.
Robnett, who’s running without party affiliation, worked as Lindquist’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor until 2012, apparently no longer able to tolerate the toxic atmosphere.
She moved to the state attorney general’s office, where she’s assigned to the sexually violent predators unit. Her poise and professionalism helped her succeed in two AG regimes: that of Republican Rob McKenna, followed by Democrat Bob Ferguson.
In charisma and the art of schmoozing, Robnett is no match for Lindquist. She’s not a natural-born campaigner and doesn’t articulate a vision as easily as the Democratic incumbent; he can tick off a list of goals such as cracking down harder on elder abuse and using data more effectively in prosecutions.
But Robnett’s No. 1 goal is the only one she needs: to run the 218-employee office in a decidedly non-Lindquistian manner, changing the culture to one steeped in professionalism, not careerism.
If she’s looking for a motto, “no flash; no grandstanding; all business” works just fine.
The Lindquist era was marked by palace intrigue even before it began. In 2009, then-Prosecutor Gerry Horne promoted Lindquist to chief criminal deputy, a shortcut to appointing him to the top job when Horne retired later that year.
He certainly had the talent and experience to be a good prosecutor. But even then, we had concerns.
“His instincts may be too political,” we wrote in our endorsement of Lindquist before his first election in 2010, adding that “we remain curious about how much importance he places on the attention of cameras and adulatory publicity.”
(Four years later, we made no endorsement because Lindquist had no opponent.)
Those words have proven prophetic. One reckless display of attention-seeking behavior occurred in 2016, when Lindquist went on the notoriously over-the-top “Nancy Grace” legal talk show, soaking up national exposure during a high-profile murder trial.
Afterward, he faced rightful criticism for potentially compromising fair treatment to the defendant. A bar complaint was filed, and Lindquist is scheduled for a disciplinary hearing in December.
Countless other storm clouds have blown through during his tenure, casting shadows on his conduct and credibility. The whole saga has been painstakingly chronicled through years of reporting by TNT staff writer Sean Robinson.
Your tax dollars are defending Lindquist in these actions. The biggest legal tab: More than $1 million to block the disclosure of work-related text messages on his private phone, which he fought all the way to the state Supreme Court, and lost.
And then there was the damning five-month whistleblower investigation in 2015, ordered by the county after complaints from two high-ranking Lindquist staffers.
It painted a picture of a prosecutor who blacklisted disfavored defense attorneys so they couldn’t negotiate better deals for clients. It described a corrosive culture created by a boss who fancied himself a “judge-maker,” striving to fill local benches with loyal deputies while banishing in-house critics to “Siberia.”
Lindquist’s reaction to the ethical quagmire? He tries to float above it all. He uses his considerable lawyer skills to redirect attention and shift blame. He doesn’t take responsibility.
Years of collateral damage to the public trust and the local law-and-order community can’t be ignored, no matter how many times Lindquist draws from his trove of inspirational Robert F. Kennedy quotes. Nor how often he speaks on the campaign trail about his “old-fashioned, high-minded public-service approach” without a trace of irony.
In early 2016, The Seattle Times Editorial Board called on Lindquist to resign. We’ve never gone that far, knowing he wouldn’t and waiting for voters to render their verdict.
That day is almost here, and judging by the incumbent’s shocking deficit of more than 11 percentage points in the primary election, the preponderance of evidence points to one outcome:
Mary Robnett must be elected.
CHECKING THEIR RECORDS