Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

Port of Seattle temp’s scam try brings three felony charges

by April 8th, 2013

A former Port of Seattle temp named Kelly Wengping Lee hired from the AppleOne firm is charged in King County Superior Court documents with three counts of felony identity theft for allegedly trying to go on an online Nordstrom shopping spree using the Port credit cards of Port Commission Office executive assistant Marcella Hernandez, who supervised her, as well as Port Commission President Tom Albro and then-Port Commissioner Rob Holland. According to a Port police report Lee admitted the attempted buys, and said she needed some retail therapy after recent personal troubles.

Wide range of confidential commissioner ID data found in temp’s home, car
Searches Lee formally authorized by Port police of her Magnolia apartment and her car turned up not only Port credit card numbers for Holland, Albro and Hernandez, but also those of Port Commissioners John Creighton, Bill Bryant and Gael Tarleton, and a wealth of confidential identifying data on Tarleton and Creighton including personal credit card account information, birthplaces and dates, social security numbers, frequent flyer plans and driver’s license numbers. According to case documents, Hernandez had shown the temp Lee a white binder with confidential Commissioner data and told her she might need to use it to make travel arrangements for some of them.

King County pays $10.5 mil in 4th quarter negligence cases

by February 5th, 2013

A woman run over by a bus in West Seattle. A man who had already won a large settlement for police excessive force but whose attorney was denied key records in the process. A woman attacked and injured by a neighbor’s two pit bulls, about which she had already made complaints. Three different people injured by the same King County bus that rounded a bend on Interstate 5 and smacked into stalled traffic, at 30 miles per hour. These are a few of the 13 “tort,” or negligence lawsuits King County settled before trial with claimants for $100,000 or more in the fourth quarter of 2012, for a total of $10,535,500. The information comes in a new report to the King County Council from Jennifer Hillis, Director of the Office of Risk Management, Department of Executive Services.

The last quarter results bring to $15,785,500 the total of $100,000-plus tort claim settlements by the county in 2012, compared to $23.1 million in 2011 and $10.3 million in 2010, according to earlier county records reported on by Public Data Ferret. The percentage of dollars paid out in such settlements that stemmed from errors attributed to King County Metro transit employees was almost 73 percent in 2012 versus 27 percent in 2011 and 64 percent in 2010.

AG warns of more “McCleary-esque” suits by county judges

by February 1st, 2013

Washington could increasingly bear the costs of suing itself, having to pay for suits by state-funded public employees such as county superior court judges aggrieved at budget cuts imposed by county officials who may themselves then turn around and sue the state in response. That was the warning from the state’s Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Moran in Olympia this week to lawmakers on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government. (See TVW video below).

Moran said a current lawsuit against Grays Harbor County commissioners by the county’s superior court judges has so far cost the state $340,000 for outside counsel it is legally required to provide to the judges, who are state employees and have no funds of their own to sue. Moran, who was accompanied by new Attorney General Bob Ferguson, told the subcommittee the AG’s office will need another $600,000 to pay for the judges’ outside counsel in the 2013-15 state budget, although a settlement may occur before a scheduled trial this June.

Moran added that a similar standoff between superior court judges and county commissioners is looming in Cowlitz County, and that given similar county court funding problems across the state, such lawsuits at state expense could grow. “I would be astounded if the two counties didn’t become three” and then more, Moran told the subcommittee this week. County courts in many instances across the state are badly overcrowded and run-down.

The county has already spent another roughly $200,000 of its own to date with attorney Thomas Fitzpatrick and his partner, former State Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge of West Seattle, to defend itself against the judges and to in turn sue the state – claiming that it has been the real culprit by shirking its responsibility to adequately fund county court facilities. Beyond paying for the judges to sue the county, the state is also bearing additional costs for its own defense by the AG’s Office in the third-party action by the county board. The case is Grays Harbor Superior Court Judges v. Grays Harbor v. State of Washington.

The Grays Harbor judges sued the county in December, 2011 in neighboring Thurston County Superior Court, after their county’s commissioners had made cumulative cuts to the court’s budget over 10 years totaling five percent. The final straw was a planned 8.3 percent cut of $59,020 for the court in 2012 from the 2011 budget of $704,838; plus additional cuts to the budget of the juvenile justice center, The Daily World reported. The judges wanted a promised third courtroom, more court administrative staff to handle a pressing caseload, and basic security. They got the latter after a violent incident in the courthouse last March when an armed intruder shot a deputy and stabbed a judge. Both survived.

As explained in a backgrounder from Ferguson’s Office, the AG would have been able to represent the judges without paying outside counsel to do, except that the AG’s first obligation in the case was to defend the state against the county board’s lawsuit stemming from the judges’ suit against the county. Representing both sides would have posed a conflict.

Parallels to landmark education funding decision
Moran suggested that in calling attention to basic funding problems for which the state holds ultimate responsibility, the Grays Harbor case is “McCleary-esque.” This refers to the landmark McCleary v. State of Washington suit in which the state’s Supreme Court agreed with claims the state isn’t adequately funding K-12 public education, and ordered the legislature to come up with billions more for that in coming years.

Cowlitz County dispute could add to state costs for court funding controversies
There is a March 1 deadline for resolving the situation in Cowlitz; if that does not occur the superior court judges expect to file suit, and have already been granted funding by the county board (whom they would sue) to hire Scott Missall, the same Seattle attorney now representing the Grays Harbor judges. The county board on January 29 approved a proposal in a January 9 letter from Missall to pay him $390 per hour and when needed, another attorney at $280 an hour for representing the judges in negotiations. If the judges file suit against the county and it like Grays Harbor County then sues the state, the AG’s office would again be forced to pay for outside counsel for the judges.

Lawmakers, AG’s office ponder fixes
In the backgrounder, the AG’s office says under current state law its “‘duty to sue’ could extend to prosecuting attorneys and any other ‘state official’ wishing to sue the state, county, and any other official or party.” In the subcommittee hearing, Moran said policy options range from a potentially costly laissez-faire approach to giving the AG more say-so on what “suits it jumps into” on behalf of public employees. State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a member of the subcommittee, responded that another option would for the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the county superior courts, to have to approve such suits by court employees, and bear the expense.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Port OKs challenge of feds on concessionaire labor rules

by October 24th, 2012

The Port of Seattle has decided it will revisit a 12-year-old legal setback that sharply limited its powers to micromanage the labor relations of its concessionaires. The Port approved at its October 23 business meeting a motion authorizing outside legal counsel to seek “to dissolve or modify” a 2000 federal court order and consent judgement that blocked a Port attempt to make a concessionaire hire workers from a particular Port-allied labor union. The agreement also permanently blocked any other Port actions interfering with the federally-protected rights of concessionaires “to assign work to their own employees.”

Under Port rules and a related labor agreement, the Port had required CityIce Cold Storage at Terminal 91 in Seattle to hire workers from International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) Local 19 for unloading of fish and seafood cargo, in place of the CityIce boats’ own crews or CityIce’s Teamsters-affiliated dockworkers. Judge Barbara Rothstein’s order was entered in the U.S. District Court of Washington’s Western District, in Seattle. It required the Port to pay $275,000 in legal fees to CityIce. It also re-estalished the concessionaire’s labor management rights; and has effectively blocked the Port not only from dictating who a concessionaire should hire, but also from requiring or even strongly recommending to concessionaires that they adopt a so-called “worker retention” policy.

Job security sought for concessions workers
That last part is a sticking point these days for the Port, as board commissioners have repeatedly said in public meetings over the last two years. The Port has detailed publicly that it wants concessionaires – companies who bid to win lease rights on Port property to do business – to commit upfront, perhaps as a condition of being awarded a concession, that they will take steps to try to hire suitable ex-workers of other Port concessionaires who ended their leases with the Port. The worker retention policy push is part of a broader Concessions Master Plan the Port is developing to govern its relations from 2015 to 2017 with concessionaires at its Sea-Tac Airport. There are more than 50 in-airport concessionaires at Sea-Tac and others on adjacent airport properties.

Washington State judges behaving badly – the database

by October 24th, 2012

The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct provides an easy-to-use online database of disciplinary cases involving judges behaving – or alleged to have been behaving – badly. You can slice and dice by geography, type of discipline administered, date, and more. Key is that each entry links to the actual case documents so that if warranted, social media users, bloggers, journalists, watchdogs and other stakeholders can link to or circulate them online. It should be noted up front that compared to the total volume of court proceedings in municipal, district, appeals and supreme courts in Washington state, and compared to the total number of judges on the bench in these courts, the overall number of sanctions is modest. Nonetheless they have added up over the years, and often involve serious lapses in, well, judgement; as well as violations of so-called judicial canons, or codes of conduct. Better we should have access to probe the details, than not. Let’s take a quick tour to see how the database works.

Cap Hill rehab house ex-worker cops to felony; hid suspect

by October 1st, 2012

Caitlan T. Grassi, a former caseworker at a halfway house for federal felons in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Seattle Friday on a felony charge of concealing someone from arrest, and a drug-related misdemeanor, according to a statement released by the office of U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. The 29-year-old Grassi worked at Pioneer Fellowship House, a residential reentry center operated by Pioneer Human Services at 220 11th Ave. The statement from Durkan’s office says in a plea agreement Grassi admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a felon she supervised at the house by concealing his drug use from others there; warning him of a pending random drug test; and telling him to hide in his room when he appeared to be under the influence of drugs. She signed him out of the house in March of last year to go to work but instead took him to her apartment, where they had sex, according to the plea agreement and the statement from the U.S. Attorney.

After suspicious house staff suspended her and she then resigned shortly afterward, the felon disappeared from the house, and an arrest warrant was issued. She knew of the warrant but met him in a club, took him home, gave him money to buy heroin, and a place to stay in Renton, to evade law enforcement. She later took him to a drug buy, and watched him use heroin. He was subsequently taken back into custody and sentenced for violating terms of his supervised release. She exchanged more than 1,000 text messages with him in a month.

Federal Way R.N. surrenders license in wake of rape charge

by September 20th, 2012

In an order made public today by the Washington State Department of Health, a former registered nurse named Konstantin V. Kurkov who worked in the emergency room of St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way has agreed to permanently surrender his license, following criminal charges of second degree rape of a patient, and administrative proceedings alleging unprofessional conduct.

Kurkov, now 24, and registered to vote at an address on 146th Avenue E. in the town of Graham in Pierce County, settled the criminal charges earlier by entering a so-called Alford Plea to a lesser charge of second degree assault. An Alford Plea indicates no admission of guilt but acknowledging the evidence was substantial. He was sentenced on that charge to 90 days home detention earlier this month by King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey, but had already served 95 days in jail, so was released. The sentence also included a $1,000 fine, 12 months probation and a requirement Kurkov get a professional evaluation for sexual deviancy and follow the recommendations.

In the meantime, the surrender of his registered nursing license to DOH’s Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission also means he will never be able to hold any kind of health care license in Washington State for the rest of his life. In March, 2011, just 14 months after being granted his state R.N. license, Kurkov sexually abused a female patient by inappropriately probing her genital area after she came in to the ER for back pain. She initially believed he was a doctor based on his words and actions at the time.

Further details of the DOH allegations and a link to the original criminal charges were reported by Public Data Ferret in late April, 2011, shortly after the state’s inquiry was made public.

Public Data Ferret’s Ethics+Health Care archive

Perp’s appeal fails, in Capitol Hill hate crime at LGBT club

by July 24th, 2012

A ruling from a Washington State appeals court Monday upheld the conviction of a Seattle man for other charges related to an anti-gay hate crime for which he was also convicted, near a Capitol Hill LGBT nightclub. Muhamet M. Sumaj was convicted in 2011 of felony and malicious harassment of a female-to-male transsexual named A.M. and felony harassment of a security guard named Donald Tidd after Sumaj conveyed racially and sexually-tinged verbal abuse and death threats outside Neighbours, a club popular with LGBT patrons. King County prosecutors noted at the time that malicious harassment is the legal term used in the state’s “hate crime” law. Sumaj was sentenced by King County Judge Steven C. Gonzales in February 2011 to six months of Work Education Release, on a King County work crew. Sumaj’s attorney in early October 2011 filed an appeal with the state seeking to overturn the felony harassment convictions, arguing prosecutors failed to properly spell out in their case that he had made a “true threat,” and also asserting there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Sumaj on the second one, involving Tidd. King County filed a response and after deliberation Sumaj’s appeal was rejected July 23 by the Washington State Court of Appeals Division One.