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In the latest sign of serious corruption in the office of Pierce County District Attorney Mark Lindquist, a county investigation has issued a damning 67-page report, triggered by a whisteblower complaint filed earlier this year, portraying a prosecutor’s office riven with ethics violations and run on a system of retaliation against employees and defense attorneys who dare to criticize the district attorney.

Readers of the Open File will be familiar by now with Lindquist’s office, which, thanks to the thorough reporting of the News Tribune, has been shown to have the highest rate of reversals in Washington State, a dubious practice of spending public resources to bully the press, and which has faced withering criticism from veteran staff prosecutors over alleged ethics violations. Lindquist himself is now the subject of an extraordinarily rare, court approved voter-recall effort.

The new report, issued by the Pierce County Human Resources Commission, makes a series of remarkable findings. Among them are:

  • Referring to his efforts to promote his own deputies to the bench, Lindquist told a retired judge, “I elect judges, the people don’t.”
  • Multiple people interviewed reported hearing Lindquist saying during his reelection campaign that he “would get $100K of free publicity from the murders” of four police officers in Lakewood, Washington in 2009.
  • Lindquist singled out a group of defense attorneys who had been critical of him and instructed his deputies not to offer their clients any “good deals.”

For a full rundown on the report’s findings, you can read the News Tribune’s article here.

This report comes in the same week that we learned of yet another finding of prosecutorial misconduct by one of Lindquist’s deputies. Last week Washington State appeals court overturned a child-rape conviction holding that a deputy prosecutor improperly appealed to the passions of the jury in her closing arguments.

The News Tribune reported the decision of a state appeals court reversing four counts of first-degree child rape and two counts of first-degree child molestation against fifty-one year-old Alfred James Thierry Jr.

The unanimous opinion found that deputy prosecutor Kara Sanchez, in her closing argument, had improperly argued that if the jury were to acquit Thierry it would be tantamount to discrediting all child testimony in sex abuse cases, and that a not-guilty verdict could thus endanger all other child sex abuse prosecutions.

The prosecutor’s message was that if the jury did not believe JT’s testimony, and thus by implication acquitted Thierry, “then the State may as well just give up prosecuting these cases, and the law might as well say that [t]he word of a child is not enough.” The message, in other words, was that the jury needed to convict Thierry in order to allow reliance on the testimony of victims of child sex abuse and to protect future victims of such abuse. This hyperbole invited the jury to decide the case on an emotional basis, relying on a threatened impact on other cases, or society in general, rather than on the merits of the State’s case.
After holding this insinuation improper, the court went on to find that it was sufficiently prejudicial to effect the outcome of the trial. The case against Thierry rested “almost entirely” on the testimony of the child, JT. In addition to appealing to the jury’s fear that acquittal would result in the state abandoning child sex abuse prosecutions altogether, the court found Sanchez aggravated the prejudice caused by her misconduct by thoroughly mischaracterizing the defense’s own summation.
As noted, defense counsel never suggested that the jury should not believe JT because of his age. Thierry’s attorney based her impeachment entirely on specific inconsistencies in JT’s statements, possible motives to lie suggested by evidence in the record, and JT’s testimony that he liked to write stories. Thierry’s attorney certainly never argued, as the prosecutor claimed, that the jury should not credit JT’s testimony simply “because he’s a child.”
In a useful reminder of the proper role of the prosecutor, the court added a more general admonishment against the practice of mischaracterizing defense counsel’s assertions on behalf of their clients.
The tactic of misrepresenting defense counsel’s argument in rebuttal, effectively creating a straw man easily destroyed in the minds of the jury, does not comport with the prosecutor’s duty to seek convictions based only on probative evidence and sound reason. Because the jury will normally place great confidence in the faithful execution of the obligations of a prosecuting attorney, [a prosecutor’s] improper insinuations or suggestions are apt to carry more weight against a defendant (internal quotations omitted).
In the face of the report just issued and the demonstrated record of Mark Lindquist and many of the prosecutors in his office, this admonishment sounds almost genteel. “The faithful execution of the obligations of a prosecuting attorney” isn’t close to what is going on in Pierce County.
Organizers, meanwhile, have begun collecting the signatures required to place Lindquist’s recall on next November’s ballot.
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