In yet another sign of the problems plaguing the office of Pierce County District Attorney Mark Linquist, the News Tribune reports that the kidnapping and robbery convictions of a Tacoma man have been vacated by a Washington State appellate court that found Lindquist’s prosecutors used improper argument by “appealing to the jury’s passion and prejudice.”
At Shamarr Parker’s 2010 trial, deputy prosecutors Jason Ruyf and Angelica Williams repeatedly asked the jury to “imagine the terror” the victim had experienced during her “waking nightmare” at the time of the alleged crime, exhorting them again and again to experience vicariously the horror of the moment. One of them (the record does not specify whether it was Ruyf or Williams) quoted Justice Cardozo to the effect that “justice, while due to the accused, is due to the accuser as well,” concluding, “it is no longer reasonable to doubt the defendant is guilty.”
Because Parker’s original appellate counsel failed to raise any claim of prosecutorial misconduct on direct appeal, and because the closing arguments constituted misconduct, the court agreed he had received ineffective assistance and granted a new trial.
An Office in Serious Trouble
The Parker decision is only the latest in a string of problems we have been writing about in Lindquist’s office. In April, the News Tribune reported that Pierce County leads the state in convictions overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct, accounting for 43% of all such reversals since 2013, owing to its prosecutors’ “flagrant” behavior. Then, a month later, a 33-year veteran prosecutor in the office filed a whistle blower complaint alleging systematic and wide-ranging misconduct, mismanagement, and illegal politicizing of the office.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, to learn from the Dispatch that “recall charges have been filed against Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist, accusing him of misconduct in his official duties.”
The allegations were submitted by a citizen last Wednesday to the county auditor – the start of a process in which a judge will review them and decide whether they warrant a possible campaign to remove Lindquist from office.
In the 12 charges of misconduct filed by Cheryl Iseberg, a University Place resident who is leading the recall effort, Lindquist generally is accused of abusing his power, creating an unprofessional atmosphere in the prosecutor’s office, and misusing public funds.
Before advocates can begin collecting the required signatures, a judge must decide if the charges are legally valid.
Seen in its full context, then, the Parker case is not just another appeal that happened to get a favorable review. It is a finding that confirms a distinct pattern. In its opinion, the Division II appellate court held that the statements by prosecutors quoted above “served no purpose other than to evoke the jurors’ sympathies (for the victim) and arouse their prejudice against Parker…In cases in which credibility determinations are key, there is a substantial risk that the jury’s verdict could be affected by an improper appeal to the jury’s emotions.”
Consider this in light of what the News Tribune reported back in April:
Deputy prosecutors’ missteps during closing arguments were the bugaboo during each of the Pierce County cases [examined for the report on misconduct]. Farina, Lindquist’s chief of staff, was dinged for repeatedly asserting her opinion of Walker’s guilt and for injecting race, whether intentionally or not, into a trial in which race was not a factor. Penner, Lindquist’s chief criminal deputy, and former prosecutor and current judge Phil Sorensen were chastised for repeatedly misstating the law during closings in Allen’s trial. John Sheeran, who heads Lindquist’s felony division, saw a case overturned for what the Supreme Court called “pervasive misconduct,” including bickering with defense counsel in front of the jury and whispering to jurors during his closing argument, among other things.
In sum, what Shamarr Parker faced at his trial in the form of prosecutors breaking the rules of proper argument is coming to look more like an office policy than an isolated case of overreaching. Add to this the accusations of a veteran prosecutor in his own office to this same effect, and now an effort to recall him for his conduct, and it’s reasonable to ask, how much longer will Mark Lindquist be able to brush this kind of criticism off as “noise”? And how long will it take news outlets beyond Pierce County to take notice of what is apparently a serious case of public malfeasance.