Crime

Complaint against Pierce County Prosecutor Lindquist alleges misuse of public funds

By Sean Robinson - Staff writer

May 26, 2015 02:05 PM

The state’s open-government watchdog filed a complaint Tuesday against Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, alleging misuse of public funds and resources in a long-running legal case involving Lindquist’s personal phone records.

The complaint, filed with the state auditor’s office, was signed by Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for open Government.

It contends Lindquist directed county attorneys to take positions that favor his personal interests, hired outside attorneys for the same purpose and authorized his subordinates to write and file legal briefs submitted on behalf of outside organizations.

Asked for comment Tuesday via an email to his office, Lindquist did not respond.

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His chief civil deputy, Doug Vanscoy, sent an emailed statement referring to organizations that support Lindquist’s position. Vanscoy added that there was no conflict of interest, and questioned the legitimacy of the coalition’s complaint.

“This is a baseless complaint submitted by a group that already filed a brief in the case,” Vanscoy wrote.

The legal case at the center of the complaint, Nissen v. Pierce County, dates to 2011. Glenda Nissen, a sheriff’s deputy, sued for access to Lindquist’s personal cellphone records and copies of text messages sent over a few days, arguing they contained material relevant to public business.

The Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the case at 9 a.m. on June 11.

The county has paid $253,449 to outside attorneys working on the case (two lawsuits tied to the same circumstances), according to billing records from the county’s risk management division.

Two deputy prosecutors also filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of outside organizations, including the Pierce County Prosecutors Association — the union that represents prosecutors in Lindquist’s office.

A whistleblower complaint against Lindquist, filed May 12 by deputy prosecutor Steven Merrival, alludes to some of the circumstances surrounding the Nissen case.

Nixon said he filed the complaint from the coalition because he believes Lindquist has an inherent conflict of interest with the county’s duty to disclose public records.

“Mark Lindquist continues to direct the handling of this case within his office while he is an adverse party to the county,” Nixon said. “That’s just fundamentally a conflict of interest.

“But it goes beyond that. He has directed the county to expend a great deal of money to effectively trying to protect Mark Lindquist personally from having to release these records.

“The gist of this complaint is that he’s using public funds on a personal matter. I just don’t think that’s right.”