(TIM RASMUSSEN/Stevens County Prosecutor)
A Declaratory Judgement action is a particular kind of lawsuit in which one party asks the court to make a legal determination regarding a particular aspect of the situation. It is usually at the beginning of a case but can be where the facts are not disputed. It is used to help the parties understand where they stand legally so the issue can proceed. These actions are not very common, but they do come up from time to time in civil matters.
About two weeks ago, I filed a Declaratory Judgment action in the matter of the commissioner’s misuse of the homelessness funds. I asked the court to decide they whether the commissioners have a right to an attorney at public expense. I am certain the commissioners will file an answer to the lawsuit and continue their demand for an attorney to defend them at public expense.
I filed the action because I believe the law is clear that when a county official acts unlawfully, the county does not have the obligation to provide an attorney for them. The Declaratory Judgement action will decide this issue.
In a related matter, I have appointed attorney George Ahrend of Moses Lake as a Special Deputy Prosecuting Attorney to act on behalf of Stevens County. He has filed an action against the commissioner’s bond. (The law requires every elected official to have a bond to guarantee they will faithfully perform the duties of their office.) I appointed Mr. Ahrend because he is skilled in these complicated matters and I did not want to make a mistake that might cause the county not to be able to recover the funds from the bonding company. The court will ultimately decide Mr. Ahrend’s fee.
This lawsuit is also a Declaratory Judgement action. The facts are not disputed. The commissioners donated public money to benefit private persons. The State Auditor has made a finding it was a gift. The law prohibits such gifts. The lawsuit also asks the bonding company to pay the bond amount because the commissioners did not faithfully fulfill the duties of their offices by this illegal gift of public funds.
There are also criminal charges to be considered. This crime does not require an intent to commit a crime, just an intent to do what is done. I have decided that because I am in the process of suing the commissioners in civil court to recover the funds, I should conflict myself off the decision of whether or not criminal charges should be filed. I am in the process of making a referral for consideration of criminal charges.