(BY JARED ARNOLD AND COLIN HAFFNER/Chewelah Independent)
Judge’s campaign website alleges personal attacks and misconduct…
The campaign to re-elect Judge Gina Tveit released statements and documents on its website, alleging misconduct and corruption in the Stevens County Prosecutors office.
The information found under the “Facts and Information” tab on the judge’s re-election website was released Sunday night and outlines multiple actions by Prosecuting Attorney Tim Rasmussen, members of the prosecutor’s office staff, and former staff that are categorized on the page as outside legal bounds. Lech Radzimski is currently working at the prosecutor’s office while also challenging Tveit for her seat on the district court bench in the November election.
When contacted by the Independent, Radzimski said that the case Tveit references on the website is still under litigation and therefore could not make comment, citing judicial conduct rules.
Details outlined in the allegations center around what the campaign calls “strategic alliances” in the prosecutor’s office and attacks on Judge Tveit.
“During this campaign season, many harmful personal attacks have been directed at Judge Gina Tveit, the coordinated nature of which reveals a disturbing concentration of power within the Stevens County Prosecutor’s office, that threatens, in the upcoming election, to undermine the independence and integrity of the Stevens County court system,” the campaign stated in its opening section of the Facts and Information page.
Instances of misconduct first appear following a complaint made to the District Court Administrator from a court-orderd community service workcrew member on August 30, 2017, according to the campaign page.
In the complaint, the workcrew member identified by the initials R.B., is said to have noted the workcrew supervisor was using inappropriate language, the campaign said. The administrator is reported to have immediately contacted the Stevens County Solid Waste Manager, who oversees the workcrew supervisor, and adjustments were implemented within 24 hours to manage the behavior.
The campaign page goes on to explain that Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen later acknowledged on November 28, 2017 that he met with the workcrew member without their court-appointed attorney present and urged them to contact a private attorney, Brendan Kidd, who would become R.B.’s representing attorney and later filed a $2.5 million civil tort claim against Stevens County based on allegations of sexual harassment.
“The Prosecutor’s Office took an active role in urging forward a lawsuit against the county,” the campaign page said of Rasmussen’s conduct in connecting the workcrew member with Kidd.
Judge Tveit and the Court Administrator reportedly had no knowledge of any sexual harassment allegations made by the workcrew member prior to the tort filing, the campaign page said.
Radzimski said he couldn’t comment on this specific case, saying that the campaign activities of judges and judicial candidates are subject to the limitations that are found in the Code of Judicial Conduct (CJC). CJC Rule 4.1 provides, “…a judge or a judicial candidate shall not: (11) make any statement that would reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court…”
“The matters referenced by Judge Tveit are currently being litigated in state and federal court. I do not feel that it is appropriate for me to comment on them,” Radzimski said.
Tveit’s campaign page states that after an investigation, the county’s insurance pool “was unable to find any merit to the claim and denied any form of settlement to [R.B.].”
In an interview with The Independent, Rasmussen said that R.B. has currently filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in federal court. He said the case is scheduled for trial in November 2019. Due to the pending trial, he also declined to comment on the case and Tveit’s campaign claims. Rasmussen did suggest that Tveit may be violating judicial conduct rules herself by making statements about the case on her campaign website.
In an effort to uncover more information about the civil suit, Judge Tveit filed a Public Records Request in order to obtain all records relating to allegations of wrongdoing on the workcrew, the campaign page reports.
A response was received 45 days later denying all records of significance, the campaign page said, noting that the letter refusing the records was signed by deputy prosecutor Christy Radzimski, Lech Radzimski’s wife.
“A large number of documents relating to the Benjamin work crew issue were withheld-including 16 separate documents containing communications between Tim Rasmussen, Deputy Prosecutor Nick Force (brother-in-law of Lech Radzimski), County Commissioners Wes McCart and Steve Parker, Public Works Director Jason Hart, Solid Waste manager Kevin Dionnes, and attorney Brendan Kidd,” the campaign page said.
The campaign page then went on to explain that on October 25, 2017, Superior Court Judge Reeves signed an order dismissing the criminal sentencing of the workcrew member, a move that is outside the legal authority of a Superior Court Judge to do in a pending District Court case. It was further noted that Reeves once served as the deputy prosecutor on the case when serving in the prosecutor’s office and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct that prohibits judges from involving themselves in cases where they once served as an attorney.
“On January 29, 2018, the Stevens County Superior Court administrator, a supporter and endorser of Lech Radzimski, spontaneously announced that it would be hearing all District Court first appearance cases. This highly unusual action, which was clearly intended to strip the District Court of a portion of its jurisdiction, highlights an unhealthy alliance between the Superior Court and the Prosecutor’s Office,” the campaign page stated.
In response, Judge Tveit made numerous attempts to contact the Superior Court judges to better understand this decision and received no response, the campaign page said. Rather, the third attempt was alleged to have been forwarded on to Rasmussen before the Superior Court, represented by the prosecutor’s office, filed a petition to the Lincoln County Superior Court “seeking to “command” District Court to accept the Superior Court filings.
The final allegation of misconduct by the prosecutor’s office from the campaign page noted that Rasmussen refuses to participate, despite a responsibility to do so, in the Stevens County Veterans Court. The page goes on to state that Rasmussen blatantly lied to Judge Tveit at one point when Tveit inquired as to where one of the deputy prosecutor’s was during a required pre-staffing meeting of the court.
“During one Veterans Court docket, when questioned about his deputy prosecutor’s absence by Judge Tveit, Tim Rasmussen replied, “I don’t know… perhaps he’s sick.” A few days later, Tim Rasmussen, along with Lech Radzimski’s brother-in-law Nick Force, invited the Veterans Court Coordinator, Marty Brown, to a private meeting. During that meeting, Marty Brown states that Tim Rasmussen told him, “I know why my deputy prosecutor was not at the staffing hearing. It was because I told him not to be,” the campaign page stated in regard to Rasmussen’s actions.
Rasmussen did not address the accusations about Veterans Court directly, but did express his support for the program and provided his own take on the situation in an email to The Independent.
“I agree that there have been some problems in the Veterans Court. One of the problems involved the discovery that Kathy Callan was making money whenever the court ordered a defendant to wear an alcohol monitoring device. They call this a “scram bracelet.” Kathy was the “installer” for the company, and she charged each defendant $100 for “installation” of this bracelet. She also received a daily fee from Moon Security for each day any defendant wore the device. The problem was in some veteran cases, Kathy was involved in the recommendations to the court that the defendant be required to wear the device! This is wrong. Having a court appointee make money off the court sentence is an obvious conflict. Kathy did this from March of 2016 until February 2018 when Deputy Prosecutor Will Ferguson raised the issue in open court,” Rasmussen explained.
In response to this statement by Rasmussen, Stevens County Veterans Court Coordinator Kathy Callan and Stevens County District Court Probation Office Nick Wolfe said that she has never installed a scram bracelet on a Veteran involved in Veterans court.
“That’s a lie and he knows it’s a lie,” Wolfe said.
Callan was not court-appointed as Rasmussen said, both Wolfe and Callan contend, the outgoing veterans coordinator asked Callan if she would take on the court coordinator position, which she agreed to do.
After working in the position for almost 2 years she was approached by Moon Security regarding a SCRAM installer position in Stevens County. Moon security stated the number of individuals requiring the device had been on a steady incline and defendants were unable to make the trip to Spokane for the initial set-up. She took the position with the caveat that she would not install SCRAM devices on veterans involved in veterans court, realizing that would be a conflict of interest.
In response to Rasmussen suggesting that Callan was involved in recommendations to the court that defendants be required to wear the device, Callan and Wolfe said that this happened only in one specific case for a veteran that Callan mentored. They said it wasn’t a scram device but a personal blow and go device and that it was agreed upon by Callan and the prosecutor’s office so she could be taken off probation. Since the veteran lived in Oregon, and Callan doesn’t install blow and go devices this was not a conflict.
Callan said that she was personally insulted by the allegation, which has been refuted several times before in Stevens County media, and it’s particularly hurtful as she is a veteran herself, her ex-husband is a veteran and her son is on active duty.
“I have dealt with veteran issues my entire life,” Callan said. “This is what I do. This is not just an attack on me but really an attack on my soul. He should be ashamed of what he’s said, he lies so easily. I have never met anyone with that level of power that lies so much for his own interests.”
In documents provided by Callan to The Independent, the business that Callan had received from being a SCRAM installer steadily went down when Callan said she began being critical of Rasmussen.
Furthermore, Wolfe responded to Rasmussen’s statement that it was brought up in open court by Deputy Prosecutor Will Ferguson. Wolfe said it was him who brought up the issue in a BAR complaint against Ferguson. Wolfe said a defendant approached him stating she could not afford to take the time off work to drive to Spokane to have the SCRAM device installed. When asked why she didn’t contact the local installer (Callan) she stated that part of her plea deal was that she not use Callan because the “prosecutors office did not want to give her any business”.
“You’re talking about someone getting punished for something for the prosecutor’s gain,” Wolfe said. “This forced my defendant to deal with double their costs by missing work and driving into Spokane to get the scram bracelet because they did not want them to go to Callan.”
They also contend that the prosecutor’s office has not been active and helpful with the running of veteran’s court despite no repeat offenders coming through. The only return veterans are those who want to participate in the court as mentors.
In his original comment with the Independent before Callan’s rebuttal, Rasmussen said he is a big supporter of veterans.
“I support veterans and have always supported veterans. I helped start the [veterans] court. I support a functional Veterans Court; one where veterans with issues are helped to a better life, while still being held accountable for their conduct. I support a court where a veteran can get a hand up, not a hand out. I want to expand programs to help folks who need a felony drug court, including veterans, if I can,” Rasmussen said about the program.
The Tveit page stated “the significance of the pending election is clear as it could result in the prosecutor’s office continuing its attempts to expand its power by putting a deputy prosecutor in position of District Court Judge while his immediate family members remain under the authority and control of the elected prosecutor, OR the retention of a Judge who has demonstrated a commitment to standing up to efforts to destroy the independence of our local court.”
When asked about having family members in court, Radzimski said that there are safeguards in the court to prevent family favoritism.
“It is true that the prosecutor’s office employs my brother-in-law and wife,” Radzimski said. “My wife does not practice in District Court, and my brother-in-law appears infrequently to cover cases for other attorneys. Presently there are approximately 20 judges in Spokane County. Several of them have family members that work regularly in the court system. There are procedures in place within the legal system to address situations such as these. This is a non-issue.”
Radzimski then defended his ethics, saying that during his legal career they have never been an issue.
“During my legal career my ethics have never been questioned,” he said. “If elected I will continue to act ethically within the bounds provided by the law. I will not be beholden to any individual and will be fair and impartial to all who appear in front of me.”
In an interview with The Independent, Rasmussen claims that Tveit is trying to damage her opponent’s campaign by unfairly associating Lech Radzimski with Rasmussen.
“Judge Tveit tries to blacken Lech’s reputation by associating him with my actions,” Rasmussen said. “I support Lech because he is the best person for the job. I have worked with both [Tveit and Radzimski] in the court system. In my opinion, Lech will make an excellent judge.”
Tveit’s campaign page accompanied each part of the Facts and Information report with supporting documentation of the statements and allegations made.
You can read the statements in their entirety and download all documents at www.judgeginatveit.com.