October 25, 2007
The uninspiring King County Prosecutor's Race (V)

This summer I filed a criminal complaint about the "fatal pends" incident where King County unlawfully counted 170 provisional ballots from unregistered voters in Nov'04 and covered it up. [Detailed complaint correspondence, here ]

But Dan Satterberg wouldn't investigate. Not because there wasn't a case, but citing the conflict that an attorney on his staff was involved. So he wouldn't ask the Sheriff to interview any of the identified witnesses. Nor would he refer the matter to another prosecuting agency as would have been appropriate. He swept the complaint under the rug because it was inconvenient.

I first broke the "fatal pends" story in The Stranger in October 2005 (and I interviewed Satterberg for that story). He and Norm Maleng should have initiated an investigation at that time. But they didn't. It took me nearly two more years of public records research (and legal action) to obtain additional supporting documentation. It's indisputable that dozens of ballots were illegally counted. The documentation alone can't prove criminal intent, but the circumstances are awfully suspicious. Witnesses told me that the instructions to count the ballots were improper and irregular. The county's ensuing cover-up, inconsistent and false statements about the incident (including in sworn depositions) and refusal to explain how such a "mistake" occurred, together suggest that somebody knew they were guilty. The fact that Bill Huennekens, the primary subject of my complaint, is still employed at King County Elections despite the widespread concerns about his performance raises the possibility that he might have been egged on to commit this act and then protected by senior county officials. Unless somebody in an official position at least looks into this matter and interviews witnesses to find out what really happened, we shouldn't have full confidence in our elections administration. So I e-mailed a detailed complaint on July 6 to a deputy in the King County Sheriff's Fraud Unit. The deputy told me he couldn't investigate (or even talk to identified witnesses) without authorization from the Prosecutor's Office. That struck me as odd. But Satterberg and a deputy prosecutor told me they were looking into it.

Two months later Satterberg invited me to come to his office to hear his thoughts. We met on September 17. He didn't tell me his decision until the meeting. I had met Satterberg several times before then and our conversations have always been congenial. This was the first time I'd seen him looking nervous. He started the conversation by saying that the linchpin of the case was legal advice to the elections staff from Janine Joly, the senior deputy prosecutor assigned to the Elections section, which "may or may not have been given and may or may not have been followed". Therefore Joly would have to be the first witness in any investigation and that would be a conflict of interest for his office. So although he also stressed that he couldn't conclude that no crime occurred, he wouldn't pursue any kind of investigation.

"What do you want us to do," he asked testily at one point. "read Bill Huennekens his Miranda rights and interrogate him?"
Um, yes. And they should also interview the other witnesses.
If Huennekens were investigated for violations that he committed in the course of performing his official duties, it would be the PAO's job to defend him, Satterberg explained. Which leads one to wonder how any acts of official corruption could be handled.

It would be appropriate to refer such matters to a different prosecuting agency. He claimed that he spoke informally with someone at the state AG office, but was told that they were working on four homicides. He didn't make a formal referral. He also mentioned Pierce and Snohomish Counties, and said that the latter didn't have the right expertise, and he declined to make a referral to either county. (The Democrat prosecutors from Pierce and Snohomish have both endorsed Satterberg).

He made some other comments in the meeting that struck me as an oddly nervous attempt to reassure me that he was really on my side, in spite of his decision to take no action. He confessed that when he was on the canvassing board in November 2004 he "felt sick to his stomach every day going in there". But if he had concerns, he should have exercised his oversight responsibilities more vigorously. Absurdly and cynically, State Demo chairman Dwight Pelz, who was also on the canvassing board in 2004, is now accusing Satterberg of behaving in a partisan fashion on the canvassing board. There's no indication that Satterberg was acting in a partisan fashion on the canvassing board, for one side or other. But I do think he was negligent in failing to exercise proper oversight. And it was his staff that advised and represented the elections office throughout the canvassing, recount and contest trial. If an attorney on his staff gave improper legal advice (one possibility in the "fatal pends" incident) he has a responsibility to look into that, and on the record.

He also expressed concerns about the move to mail-only voting and the county's ability to account for all those ballots. Well yeah, but giving a free pass to Bill Huennekens, who's now in charge of the transition to mail-only voting is not going to mitigate those concerns.

My biggest take-away from the meeting was that Dan Satterberg believes his primary role is to represent his "client" (his word), King County government. That is certainly one of his statutory duties, but it is not the only one. He also has affirmative duties to enforce the law and specifically to "Present all violations of the election laws which may come to the prosecuting attorney's knowledge to the special consideration of the proper jury". But when these obligations were in conflict and he had to make a choice between representing the citizens and representing county government, he opted to side with his "client". Even to the point of refusing to ask another prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation into serious criminal allegations against his client. I can understand why Ron Sims might be tacitly endorsing Satterberg over his Democrat opponent ("The prosecuting attorney is giving exceptional service," Sims said in an interview.) and why Jenny Durkan, Christine Gregoire's lawyer in the contest trial is backing Satterberg. (It's also noteworthy that Gregoire herself is conspicuously absent from Bill Sherman's endorsement list).

Satterberg might trumpet his refusal to get involved in this case as an example of his "non-partisanship". But I see it as, at best, an act of an overly cautious bureaucrat who avoids rocking the boat and drawing attention to his own mistakes, and at worst, the cynical act of a career insider who gives cover to his most powerful patrons so he doesn't risk losing his job. Enforcing the people's right to honest elections be damned.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at October 25, 2007 04:09 PM | Email This
Comments
1. It is awful easy when working for government to circle wagons and not do the job you were hired to do. "Don't rock the boat" has been an MO of employees- both public and private- for centuries.

Satterberg in his position, unlike, for example a prosecutor named Giuliani or the sheriff in Walking Tall or Serpico, chose the road easily traveled.

While I am extremely disappointed, I understand the frailties of the human condition and admire those mentioned above and you, Stefan, for your doggedness in the face of apathy and corruption.

Keep up the good fight. It is always the best way to go.

Posted by: swatter on October 25, 2007 04:33 PM
2. When the only member of the losing party who is involved in the election process not only does nothing other than get "sick to his stomach" but also hasn't the stomach to do a proper investigation on a criminal matter, the system is in trouble. It takes at least one honorable person to make any legitimate system work correctly. Does King County government have one?

Posted by: Micajah on October 25, 2007 04:40 PM
3. Well, are you outright endorsing Bill Sherman? I too appreciate dogged follow up and the stories you present here are extremely disappointing.

Posted by: Stuart Jenner on October 25, 2007 05:12 PM
4. Now this post reminds me alot of another Attorney named Mckay.

Jeezzzz are they all cut from the same cloth?

Posted by: chris n on October 25, 2007 06:23 PM
5. I'm now starting to understand why election fraud gets prosecuted in other states, but not here. I've seen no one with legal authority who wants to pick the ball up and run with it around here. No one.

Posted by: Michele on October 25, 2007 06:27 PM
6. I appreciate you taking the time to file a criminal complaint.

Many have expressed concern that Janine Joly's legal advice to the canvassing board and election staff was in error.

It is extremely unfortuneate that Maleng and Satterberg allowed this to happen and chose not to investigate.

Both of them, like John McKay were AWOL in their duties.

The sad fact is that nobody in government and the media cares.

If Bill Sherman was not such a publicity hound and Mike Nifong, I would vote against Satterberg.

Posted by: RICO on October 25, 2007 06:52 PM
7. Maybe Sherman should make this Investigation a priority in his campaign.

Sherman should take satterburg to tasks on this one, and follow through until something is done.

A good Politician would do that.... But we are talking about KC, so that is not gonna happen.

Posted by: chris N on October 25, 2007 06:56 PM
8. Sadly, this sounds all too typical.

Here's what John Fund says in "Stealing Elections":

"Investigations of voter fraud are inherently political; and because they often involve race, they are often not zealously pursued or prosecuted." (p. 7)

I haven't seen a formal study of this, but I think that American prosecutors are a little more willing to prosecute vote fraud cases when the fraud occurs in primaries -- because that protects the prosecutor against charges of partisanship.

A couple of years ago, I ran across a story from Florida about a retired prosecutor who had prosecuted vote fraud cases there from time to time. As the article explained, his policy was unusual; most prosecutors in Florida avoided vote fraud cases -- and that isn't because there is no vote fraud in Florida.

But even this prosecutor admitted that when he ran across a non-citizen voting (usually after being registered when he got his driver's license) he just told the illegal voter to go and sin no more.

Posted by: Jim Miller on October 25, 2007 07:23 PM
9. Well....sometimes it means your job & other times it means they find your body in a park or pond & claim suicide. Guess there's not much choice.

Posted by: Susu on October 25, 2007 07:47 PM
10. I understand Sharkansky's views.
I myself had an issue with the failure of the Canvasing board to eliminate over 1200 votes because they had been picked up,and transported illegally.
The difference is my calls to eliminate those votes went to both sides of the isle.
Nobody on the canvas board wanted to do the right thing and eliminate any appearance of impropriety, by eliminating all the votes that were picked up in unsealed containers,and voting machines in violation of RCW 29A.44.050.
The answers I was able to get from the Democrats on the canvas board was that eliminating all those votes picked up in violation of RCW 29A.44.050 would disenfranchise too many voters due to a poll workers mistake.
When I contacted Dan Satterberg,he said that the votes were guarded by sherifs until they were picked up.
I still thought that the votes should have been thrown out.
Any designated representative picking up and transporting votes still had a chance to access votes in unsealed containers.
This to me is just plain wrong.
Why not eliminate any appearance of impropriety and eliminate those votes.
That being said I still think that Dan Satterberg is the best choice for the job.
It is not like his vote was going to matter being outnumbered two to one.
Still I think that any votes picked up in violation of the ballot pick up and delivery RCW
29A.44.050.
What gets me to this day is that the Republicans failed to raise this issue when they went to Wenatchee to contest the election..
Taking 1200 votes out of King County,may have changed the election in Dino's favor.
The log books should have been taken into Court and those votes picked up in violation of RCW 29A.44.050. should have been eliminated.

Posted by: Publicbulldog on October 25, 2007 07:57 PM
11. I understand Sharkansky's views.
I myself had an issue with the failure of the Canvasing board to eliminate over 1200 votes because they had been picked up,and transported illegally.
The difference is my calls to eliminate those votes went to both sides of the isle.
Nobody on the canvas board wanted to do the right thing and eliminate any appearance of impropriety, by eliminating all the votes that were picked up in unsealed containers,and voting machines in violation of RCW 29A.44.050.
The answers I was able to get from the Democrats on the canvas board was that eliminating all those votes picked up in violation of RCW 29A.44.050 would disenfranchise too many voters due to a poll workers mistake.
When I contacted Dan Satterberg,he said that the votes were guarded by sherifs until they were picked up.
I still thought that the votes should have been thrown out.
Any designated representative picking up and transporting votes still had a chance to access votes in unsealed containers.
This to me is just plain wrong.
Why not eliminate any appearance of impropriety and eliminate those votes.
That being said I still think that Dan Satterberg is the best choice for the job.
It is not like his vote was going to matter being outnumbered two to one.
Still I think that any votes picked up in violation of the ballot pick up and delivery RCW
29A.44.050.SHOULD HAVE BEEN THROWN OUT
What gets me to this day is that the Republicans failed to raise this issue when they went to Wenatchee to contest the election..
Taking 1200 votes out of King County,may have changed the election in Dino's favor.
The log books should have been taken into Court and those votes picked up in violation of RCW 29A.44.050. should have been eliminated.

Posted by: Publicbulldog on October 25, 2007 07:57 PM
12. So,

John McKay punted. Satterburg punted.

Can you send exactly the same material to the state auditor and the _new_ fed?

Posted by: Al on October 25, 2007 08:01 PM
13. these prosecutors are the same people who fight like pit bulls over their own personal things like neighborhood barking dogs, the kid with the drum set next door, their bad rental property tenants, their fence/property lines, etc;

when it comes to the public trust and their chosen duties as fiduciaries, they punt without any balls; then, they get mad when we put them behind pimps in terms of trust & integrity;

Posted by: jimmie-howya-doin on October 25, 2007 10:08 PM
14. Just curious about the timeline for filing the vacancy and why this issue is coming up now.

1."County Council Chairman Larry Gossett, D-Seattle, said the state constitution and the Revised Code of Washington lay out a three-step process for selecting what he called "the next people's lawyer."
First, the council will appoint one of Maleng's deputies or assistants to run the prosecutor's office for now.
Second, Republican elected officials and precinct committee officers will provide three candidates for prosecuting attorney. The County Council has 60 days from the date of Maleng's death to choose one of the three.
Third, the office will be on the fall ballot.
Initial jockeying for the Republican and Democratic nominations could be intense because candidates must file during the week of June 4-8...."

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003723061_malengnext26m.html

2. You sent your materials in:

Subject: criminal complaint against King County Elections official
From: Stefan Sharkansky
Date: Fri, Jul 6, 2007 at 11:50 AM
To: christopher.johnson@metrokc.gov
Cc: sue.rahr@metrokc.gov

Apparently, you were aware of apparent deficiencies in a timely manner to go to republican leadership and ask that a disaster be averted, right?

3.Now, since all of you are active republican party members, why didn't you all intervene at step two to get a candidate more to your liking?

4. What is the group's proposed solution at this point? Stuart Jenner said:

"Well, are you outright endorsing Bill Sherman? I too appreciate dogged follow up and the stories you present here are extremely disappointing.

Posted by Stuart Jenner at October 25, 2007 05:12 PM "

So, are all of you collectively now endorsing Bill Sherman? Just curious. Otherwise, there still are some puzzle pieces missing in the timing of this offensive.

Posted by: WVH on October 25, 2007 10:16 PM
15. I'm convinced: flush this Sewer of Corruption: Bill Sherman for Prosecutor!

Posted by: blathering michael on October 25, 2007 11:33 PM
16. Blathering Michael,

You endorsing Sherman is like finding out a dog is attracted to a fire hydrant. Now, if republican stalwarts:

Stefan
Swatter
Michelle

I assume whom are all are PCs., come out and individually or collectively endorse Sherman. Dude, we have some serious news.

Posted by: WVH on October 25, 2007 11:52 PM
17. dang it WVH, why do you Republicans always find yourself between the dog and the hydrant?

Posted by: Blathering michael on October 25, 2007 11:58 PM
18. Blathering,

I am an indie, I vote for the best candidate and if I don't like either, I vote Micky Mouse. I have voted for Nader the last two elections for president and I may vote for him again. I happen to believe that despite the threads posted by Stefan, who like all who post here has an agenda that Satterburg is the superior candidate. If I like the dem better, then I vote for them. Still, I think the fire hydrant is the perfect metaphor for your support for Sherman.

Posted by: WVH on October 26, 2007 12:07 AM
19. Old news made new again by a no-credentials blogger with a chip on his shoulder. This irrelevant tirade isn't about the prosecutor's race, it's about the Shark. Won't someone hear his plea? Elections are just one big cesspool and no one but our hero can clean it up!

Posted by: Rocker Rollie on October 26, 2007 07:51 AM
20. Funny thing about the law - it's power resides on it's connection with reality, the truth, if you will.

One has to wonder upon what other crutches current, local, practice, resides upon.

-Douglas Tooley,
Lincoln Hill, Tacoma

Posted by: Douglas Tooley on October 26, 2007 08:47 AM
21. Stuart Jenner: "Well, are you outright endorsing Bill Sherman?"

No. I would be open to endorsing a Democrat who made the case that they would be more independent of the County Executive than the incumbent and would be more proactive about investigating credible reports of corruption in county government. But Sherman has not made that case.

WVH: Your questions about the timing of the complaint are way off base. I have no personal animosity against Dan Satterberg. I like the guy. It saddens me to have to write unflattering but true things about his performance in office. But this is too important of a public matter for me to give him a pass on, even if I think that he's the better candidate than his opponent in a lot of ways.

As I mentioned in my write-up, I first brought this matter to Dan Satterberg's attention more than 2 years ago. He and Maleng should have acted then. It took me nearly 2 years to compile as much evidence as I could. I filed the complaint when I did only after I believed I had gone as far as I could with public records requests before I had to turn it over to law enforcement to give them enough lead time before the statute of limitations kicked in (possibly next month for some of the allegations). As I mention in the complaint, I had received some of the documents only a few days before I sent that e-mail. Norm Maleng's untimely passing and Satterberg's candidacy to succeed him were very sadly coincidental. I kept quiet about the complaint while the Prosecutor's Office was reviewing it, because I felt it should have been handled as a professional matter, without concurrent public pressure. But given that it was handled inappropriately, in my opinion, it's fair and appropriate for me to comment on the way that it was handled.

Posted by: Stefan Sharkansky on October 26, 2007 10:33 AM
22. Sounds like a case of mis or non-feasance of a public employee. Maybe a suit filed against him would force the issue?

Posted by: Leatherneck on October 26, 2007 10:59 AM
23. Hello Stefan,

Thanks for the reponse. First, I am an indie and we have to take what the parties serve us or we can write-in Micky Mouse. If you think that Satterburg was not the appropriate person to occupy the office, from what I am led to believe you are big in pubbie circles, why didn't you take the republican county chair aside and a couple of key people in the party and say, I think there is a problem with this guy and someone should quietly go and suggest that he had family issues and had recuse himself? I appreciate the time you took to repond, but my curious little mind is a little suspicious of the timing of these threads. The question that I have for the three amigos is do you honestly feel that Sherman will prosecute the King County establishment any better than Satterburg? In my opinion, if you feel that he is so compromised that he cannot effectively serve, I feel that the more honest thing is to either endorse Sherman or to suggest that there is a backlash vote and people should vote for Micky Mouse.

Again, thanks for answering, you are a stand-up guy for reponding.

Posted by: WVH on October 26, 2007 11:27 AM
24. WVH -- "If you think that Satterburg was not the appropriate person to occupy the office ... why didn't you take the republican county chair aside and a couple of key people in the party and say, I think there is a problem with this guy ..."

When I filed the complaint with the Sheriff in July, I had no idea what Satterberg would do with it. What grounds would I have to complain to anybody? Maybe I was naive, but I thought (or at least hoped) that the Sheriff deputies and prosecutors would handle it in a professional and non-political manner, interview a few witnesses, and if witnesses confirmed what there was a problem then refer it to an outside prosecuting agency.

I'm expressing concerns about how Satterberg handled this matter which came long after his appointment and nomination.

Posted by: Stefan Sharkansky on October 26, 2007 11:43 AM
25. Hello Stefan,

As Yogi would say, you find yourself at the fork in the road, take it. What does that mean? What are your practical options? Do you now, endorse Sherman or urge a vote for Micky Mouse? What is your fork in the road?

Posted by: WVH on October 26, 2007 11:52 AM
26. Never let facts get in the way of a good story! They have sold us the story "She" won and got away with it in court. Why stop now, even if the facts show a different story?

Posted by: bob on October 26, 2007 12:01 PM
27. Never let facts get in the way of a good story! They have sold us the story "She" won and got away with it in court. Why stop now, even if the facts show a different story?

Posted by: bob on October 26, 2007 12:01 PM
28. Never let facts get in the way of a good story! They have sold us the story "She" won and got away with it in court. Why stop now, even if the facts show a different story?

Posted by: bob on October 26, 2007 12:01 PM
29. WVH: "Do you now, endorse Sherman or urge a vote for Micky Mouse? What is your fork in the road?"

I already said that i'm not endorsing Sherman. I'm not going to urge anybody what to do. I use the word "uninspiring" deliberately. I'm insufficiently inspired to make a recommendation. I'm more interested in presenting information. I'll leave it to others to decide how to act on it. I haven't even decided how I'll vote. I don't anticipate voting for Sherman. But I'll wait until election day to decide whether I cast an unenthusiastic vote for Satterberg or write in something else.

Posted by: Stefan Sharkansky on October 26, 2007 12:39 PM
30. Hello Stefan,

Keep this up and you will be solidly in the indie column and a big fan of Micky Mouse. :-)

Posted by: WVH on October 26, 2007 01:26 PM
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