Steve Tucker Puts Election Challenger on Leave

It looks like he took the day to think about it, but Spokane Prosecutor Steve Tucker closed the week by putting David Stevens on leave.  David Stevens, a deputy prosecutor in Tucker’s office,  announced a short time ago that he would run against his boss in the 2010 election.  See yesterday’s post.    Tucker seemed to be predicating the disciplinary action on the fact that Stevens criticized him publicly.  See Spokesman article.  From a legal standpoint disciplining an employee for running for office could be problematic.  In many prosecuting attorney offices, the deputies serve at will, and can be fired at any time as envisioned by RCW 36.27.040.  However, this general rule is trumped by any specific union contract or personnel policy in effect in the particular office.

Elected prosecuting attorneys usually face a lose-lose proposition when a deputy runs against them.  The elected prosecutor can fire the deputy and look mean and vindictive and face a lawsuit, or he can keep signing the paychecks as his employee trashes him on the campaign trail.  Keeping the election challenger on the payroll usually splits the office into two different camps, and productivity plummets.

Do you want to see what a recent interoffice election battle can do to a prosecutor’s office?  Check out Grant County.  In 2008 elected prosecutor John Knodell quit after 5 terms to serve as a judge.  Therefore the commissioners appointed Deputy Prosecutor Angus Lee to replace him, and many more senior lawyers quit, and one was fired.  Another deputy prosecutor, Albert Lin ran against him.  Angus Lee didn’t fire him, and the office was largely split into two camps of Albert Lin supporters or Angus Lee supporters.  I blogged a little about it here and here, but the definitive article is The Albert and Angus Show.   (It seems like Angus Lee is now getting the office back on track.)

While I am sure Steve Tucker was not excited about being called “an absent administrator”, it gets worse.  During the Grant County election one deputy prosecutor called Angus Lee a “c**k sucker.”  See source.

The bottom line is if you are going to run against your boss, you should quit.  This is true of any county courthouse position.  This is particularly true if you will be publicly criticizing your boss.  If you run for office to improve the office, it is not fair to stick around and cause deep rifts that ruin productivity.  A campaign is a major distraction.   I suppose ideally you would get fired, collect unemployment, have lots of time to doorbell, play the martyr, and reserve the right to bring a lawsuit.  But that is in your interest, not the public’s.

However, if the election challenger does not do the right thing and quit, the incumbent is not advised to fire him for that reason alone.  The legal authority is too murky in this area, particularly where there is a union contract.  It is probably nice not to have your opponent in your office spying on you, but if a suit is filed it will be the public who ends up paying the price.

What do you think?  Should election challengers stay or go?  Can an employee really mount a challenge against his or her boss without harming the office as a whole?

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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