Posts Tagged ‘Grant County’

Problems Continue in Grant County

I dare say John Knodell had no idea what kind of chaos would ensue when he decided to step down from his position as Grant County Prosecuting Attorney.  He had served almost 20 years, and resigned when he was elected judge in November of 2008.

A power struggle in Grant County has followed after John Knodell stepped down from that position in '08 after serving for almost 20 years.

Knodell left what  I think political scientists call a “power vacuum”, and we all know that nature abhors a vacuum.   After the Commissioners appointed Angus Lee as prosecuting attorney, he won the election with a slender majority, and hard feelings have followed.  (See prior blog posts on the election battle here, here, and here.)  Angus Lee’s election year opponent Albert Lin just filed a 2.5 million dollar claim against Grant County alleging he was pressured to commit unethical acts by Lee last year.  See article.   Lin complains that he was unlawfully fired.  Hmmmmm.  Sounds a lot like the case in Pierce County in 2008.  Deputy Prosecutor Barbara Corey was fired, and later came back to win a 3 million dollar lawsuit against Pierce County for unlawful termination, defamation of character, etc.  See article.

The people who really end up losing are the public citizens.  This is true in two ways.  First the public ends up paying the big jury awards (the prosecutors don’t pay out of their own pockets of course).  Secondly, the public also pays in lost productivity when a prosecutors office is split in two between supporters of both sides.

Another prosecutor’s race to watch is Kittitas County.  Former deputy prosecutor Mark McClain came out swinging when he announced that he was going to run against his former boss Greg Zempel.  His announcement read: An antiquated office structure, policies which hamper the dedicated and capable staff, a focus on misdemeanor offenses rather than felony crimes with prison sentences, and an elected prosecutor absent from the courtroom, are at the heart of the issue and must be changed in order to protect and maintain the safe community which we enjoy. Ouch!  Whatever happened to at least starting off a campaign on a positive note?

Traffic Accident for Judge Becomes Political Football (Harold Hochstatter Ambushes Angus Lee at Candidates’ Night for Grant County Prosecuting Attorney Election)

Before Angus Lee was a candidate for Prosecuting Attorney in Grant County, he served in the Marines Recon where he got shot up in a gun battle with the enemies.  You have to wonder if he is looking for a foxhole now, as some pretty big opponents see fit to go after him in this year’s election battle.

Angus Lee in Iraq

Angus Lee was once a soldier in Iraq, but now faces a different sort of combat.

Former State Senator Harold Hochstatter took aim at Angus Lee at a candidate’s forum where he ambushed Lee with an awkward question about Richard Fitterer, a judge in Grant County.   The outspoken Hochstatter asked Angus Lee about an incident where Fitterer allegedly sideswiped another car.  The incident was covered in the Columbia Basin Harold, and an excerpt follows:

Former state Senator Harold Hochstatter stood up, asking for permission to address Lee, receiving permission from Simpson (the moderator).  Hochstatter recounted an accident occurring June 5 of this year. He claimed Judge Rich Fitterer sideswiped a car coming out of Quincy. He said an officer stopped the judge’s car at Rocky Ford Creek.  “The officer who didn’t arrest, recognized the judge. I knew that in July when I was here at another debate and nothing has been done,” Hochstatter said. “That was June 5 and now it is four months later. Are you going to do anything about that?” 528271.47 “So you’re telling me that a judge got into a fender-bender and you want me to prosecute him?” Lee asked. “Let me point out the way a justice system works Harold. The police write reports and they arrest people and send that to my office. My office has never received any information of any kind, regarding what you are talking about. If we receive any information from law enforcement that there is probable cause for a crime, we prosecute it, regardless of who it is.”  Hochstatter pulled out a CD he claimed to be a recording of officers identifying the judge and speaking about the incident as it took place, and brought it over to Lee.  “This is from the (Multiple Agency Communication Center),” he said.  Lee accepted it.  “OK,” Lee said. “I’ll take a look at it tomorrow morning.”

This is what you call an ambush.  Hochstatter knows how to zing somebody at a candidates night, having run for governor in 2000.  And Harold Hochstatter should find a better way to spend his retirement then picking on young, local prosecutor candidates.  Hochstatter is one of those attention hounds that probably found it hard to sit still and watch other candidates talk, and couldn’t resist the urge to elbow his way back into the spotlight.  Since when is it fair to ask a prosecutor candidate about any particular pending case anyhow?  Angus Lee has to practice in front of Judge Fitterer as an attorney, and Harold Hochstatter put him in an awkward position.  Why didn’t Harold Hochstatter go to see Angus Lee about his concerns man-to-man?  That would have deprived Hochstatter of the element of surprise, and Hochstatter needed the theatrics to draw the spotlight on to him.

When I say Harold Hochstatter took aim at Angus Lee, that is a gun metaphor, and gun metaphors are something that Hochstatter is particularly fond of.  Hochstatter drew a rebuke from the governor when he stated that he thought sometimes it was awfully close to the time when “shooting” would be necessary to defend against unfair government regulation.

One of Angus Lee’s assistant prosecuting attorneys, Teddy Chow, later said that the office had received some reports months after the incident, and that Angus Lee wasn’t being straight with Hochstatter.  But I do not see how it is that a prosecuting attorney in a county with the population of 75,000 can be expected to keep track of every police report for every traffic case.  Anyhow, even if Angus Lee knew something about the matter, he was correct to bite his tongue at candidates’ night on any incident pertaining to a Judge.  The lawyer rules of professional conduct RPC 8.3 say that all lawyers should make “efforts to defend judges and courts from unjust criticism”.  And Angus Lee was correct not to put Judge Fitterer on trial at a candidate’s night, particularly when Fitterer was not around to defend himself.   If Teddy Chow thinks Richard Fitterer should be prosecuted, he should have referred the matter to a special prosecutor.   A traffic accident for a judge should not be allowed to become a political football.

Aside for his other qualifications for office, Angus Lee is definitely developing one particular characteristic that you need for public office.  You need to have a hide like an alligator.

Election Year Round-Up: Candidates Angus Lee, Albert Lin, Chris Thew, Nattalie Cariker, Larry Heming, Alexander Wirt, Tracy Staab, and Ryan Whitaker.

I know it is an off year for elections, but there are still good election battles going on.  Let’s start with the Grant County prosecutor race.  It all started when Grant County Prosecuting Attorney John Knodell decided that he wanted to run for judge last Fall.  He ran for Ken Jorgensen’s seat.  When Knodell was elected judge, he resigned from his job as prosecutor in the middle of his term.  The commissioners then appointed Angus Lee for the position, who I blogged about in an earlier post.   Angus Lee is a charismatic, 30-something Iraq war vet who was working in District Court prosecuting such cases as DUI and assaults.

Angus Lee

Angus Lee

He was interviewed by the Grant County Commissioners, and must have charmed them because he was selected over several more experienced deputy prosecutors.  Angus Lee faces a electoral challenge from Albert Lin, an amiable ’97 Syracuse Law grad with lots of felony trials under his belt.

Albert Lin

Albert Lin

Things got interesting when retired judge Ken Jorgensen weighed in on the political race in a letter to the editor.  Jorgensen attacked Angus Lee as inexperienced, asking “Would you hire an attorney who had no courtroom experience to represent you in an important trial?  Grant County interim prosecuting attorney Angus Lee has only been in the county for little over two years. He was admitted to the Bar in July 2005 and hired by Grant County in 2006. He has never tried a felony case in Superior Court. He has not even tried a case in Superior Court since he was appointed.”  It is true that Angus Lee is a pretty recent law school grad, but his education was delayed while he served in Iraq.

The voters seem to be turning a deaf ear toward Jorgensen, because Angus Lee was ahead in the primary.   Now that he is retired, I will say that Jorgensen seemed to get a little ornery as time has gone on.   The last time I had a case in front of him in Grant County, he became annoyed at me when I requested color copies of crime scene photographs, as opposed to black-and-white photocopies.  Ooooookay.  As to Angus Lee and Albert Lin, I have worked a little with both, and both would seem to do a good job.  The election contest has lit up the blogs down there, see for example Grant County PowerNet. (Link has been removed.)

Meanwhile, up in Omak, Washington, we are witnessing an election battle for city council between Chris Thew and Nattalie Cariker.  Thew is a former reporter from the Omak Chronicle, and I enjoyed his news stories there.  He really seemed to try to cover all perspectives.  Reporters would seem to have good qualifications for running for city council.  They often sit through meetings, and are probably well versed on the Open Public Meetings Act, and Public Record Act.   Nattalie Cariker also knows a little something about the law, having worked as a police officer for the city of Brewster, and having studied criminal justice at WSU.  A big function of any city government is working with the police department.

Up in the city of Republic, retired-attorney Alexander Wirt faces a city council election challenge from Larry Heming.

In an election issue for Republic City Council is the problem of over population of tame deer, and selected=

Alex Wirt ran for Ferry County Prosecuting Attorney against me in ’98, and against other opponents in ’02 and ’06, but he never won.   He gave up his bar license when he retired, so he does not appear to pose an election threat against the current Ferry County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sandona.  Mike Sandona faces re-election next year.  See earlier post.

In Spokane, lawyer Bryan Whitaker is taking on Tracy Staab for judge.

Bryan Whitaker

Bryan Whitaker

Bryan Whitaker is an attorney in private practice who also works as a pro tem judge.  He has highlighted the fact that he is actually a resident of the city of Spokane, while the incumbant Tracy Staab lives outside the city limits.  There is no requirement in the city code that a judge live in the city, but as a matter of Spokane pride this issue seems to have captured people’s attention.  The Spokesman-Review ran an editorial endorsing Tracy Staab and opining that the residency of the candidates should be a non-issue.  However, in an otherwise slow election year the Spokesman’s reporters continue to cover the debate on this issue.

Tracy Staab

Tracy Staab

The issue has dragged in other city officials who have been quick to get involved, including Bob Apple, who characterized Staab as a “carpetbagger” in an email.  Jim Camden wrote an opinion piece correcting his use of the term.   Tracy Staab has highlighted the fact that she received a higher rating from the Spokane County Bar Association, and has a broader array of support from sitting judges.

The job Staab and Whitaker are running for is the position of Municipal Court Judge.  The only criminal court cases that a Municipal Court Judge hears are misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors such as DUI, simple assaults, petty theft, and possession of small amounts of marijuana.  Both candidates have broad experience in their background including work as a prosecutor and as a criminal defense lawyer.

What are my predictions for the ’09 election year?  That would put the winners as Angus Lee, Chris Thew, Larry Heming, and Tracy Staab.  Time will tell.

As always, I welcome everyone to post comments, but please limit input to constructive, thoughtful comments.

Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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