A defense attorney on Monday accused Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist of violating professional rules of conduct and jeopardizing a murder defendant’s right to a fair trial by appearing on a cable television show to discuss the case while the trial was underway.
Michael Stewart said in open court that Lindquist committed misconduct when he appeared via telephone last week on “The Nancy Grace Show” to talk about the trial of a former Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier charged with killing his wife. Stewart, who is defending Skylar Nemetz against a first-degree murder count, asked Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin to declare a mistrial and order Lindquist to pay sanctions.
Lindquist is not personally handling Nemetz’s case, but he supervises the two deputy prosecutors who are.
“It’s unheard of. It’s astounding in the way it violates the rules,” Stewart argued. “It was designed to damage Mr. Nemetz during a trial, and your honor should impose sanctions for such behavior.”
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Lindquist, who did not appear before Nevin on Monday, told The News Tribune via email that his appearance on the show was part of his office’s efforts to “communicate with the public about what we do and why.”
“This includes discussions of admissible evidence and theories we base charges upon. We are open and accessible to the media because that’s one of the ways we communicate with the public,” Lindquist wrote. “The Rules of Professional Conduct recognize the importance of communication with the public, and lawyers are allowed to be open and accessible so long as their comments do not have a ‘substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing’ the trial, which, as the judge held, did not happen here.”
Nevin heard arguments from Stewart and deputy prosecutor Gregory Greer and then watched recorded portions of the show in his courtroom Monday morning before adjourning for lunch to formulate a decision.
The judge returned to the bench in the afternoon and declined to declare a mistrial or sanction Lindquist, saying there is no evidence the jury saw the show or was influenced by Lindquist’s comments.
Nevin was careful not to characterize Lindquist’s comments as inappropriate but said it wouldn’t matter if they were because the jury apparently didn’t hear them.
“There is no evidence of that,” said Nevin, who glimpsed a portion of the show on a public television last week while working out at a local gym. “There is not even a scintilla of evidence of that.”
The judge has frequently admonished the jury not to read, view or listen to news accounts or social media posts related to the case, and on Monday he invited any juror who might have done so, even inadvertently, to report it to his judicial assistant. None did.
“I think we are entitled to take their word on these things,” Nevin said.
Nemetz is accused of shooting his wife, Danielle Nemetz, in the back of the head as she sat at her computer in the couple’s Lakewood apartment in 2014.
Deputy prosecutors Greer and Jared Ausserer, who did not appear on Grace’s show, contend Skylar Nemetz was angry with his 19-year-old wife for convincing another man to buy alcohol for her while Nemetz was deployed on a training mission in Yakima.
The defense contends the shooting was an accident, that Nemetz inadvertently fired an AR-15 rifle while attempting to “clear” it on the day he returned home from training. Nemetz testified last week that he never intended to hurt his wife.
The trial, which began in January, is expected to go to closing arguments this week, possibly Tuesday.
The case has gotten a fair amount of media attention, and Grace featured it on her program on the HLN network Wednesday, an excerpt of which was available online Monday.
During the show, Grace interviewed a number of people, including Lindquist. She also mocked Nemetz’s tearful testimony by twisting her fists next to her eyes and saying, “wah, wah, wah,” and she hinted strongly throughout the show that she thinks Nemetz is guilty.
Stewart said Monday that Lindquist’s comments were “clearly a violation” of professional rules of conduct that prohibit prosecutors from offering their personal opinion of a defendant’s guilt or credibility, especially the section that states: “A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.”
The rules also prohibit a “lawyer associated in a firm or government agency with a lawyer subject to” the paragraph above from making such statements.
At one point, Lindquist told Grace that Nemetz’s behaviors before and after the shooting “add up to murder,” and also that, “The motive in this case was jealousy.”
“This was a first-rate hatchet job with the participation of our elected prosecutor,” Stewart told Nevin.
Greer, arguing for the prosecution, told Nevin he could not speak for Lindquist’s actions but that if the jury did not know about them it should not affect the case.
“These were decisions he made. They were made independent of Mr. Ausserer and I,” Greer said. “Should this case be dismissed? No, of course not.”
“Unless and until they have a connection to this jury, they are not before the court,” the judge said.