Washington DA faces discipline over television appearance
Pierce County, Washington Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist will likely face a disciplinary hearing for comments he made during a television interview on the Nancy Grace Show. Lindquist could face disbarment, as well as suspension from his elected position.
Lindquist appeared on Grace’s show in February 2016 to discuss the murder trial of Skylar Nemetz, which was ongoing at the time. During that appearance Lindquist said the actions of Nemetz, accused of killing his wife, “add up to murder.”
Lindquist told the Tacoma News Tribune that he went on the show to “communicate with the public about what we do and why.”
Nemetz was eventually convicted of first-degree manslaughter. He maintained the shooting of his wife was accidental.
Nemetz’ defense attorney, Michael Stewart, claimed Lindquist’s actions jeopardized Nemetz’s right to a fair trial and violated the professional codes of conduct.
“It’s unheard of. It’s astounding in the way it violates the rules,” Stewart argued to the judge when asking for a mistrial and sanctions against Lindquist. “It was designed to damage Mr. Nemetz during a trial, and your honor should impose sanctions for such behavior.”
Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin declined to declare a mistrial or sanction Lindquist, ruling that the jury did not hear the interview. But complaints were filed against Lindquist by local defense attorney John Cain with the Washington Bar.
In a highly unusual move, the Washington State Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel recommended the hearing on Sept. 8. The Counsel’s rationale for doing so is that Lindquist’s appearance on the show might have violated the rules of professional conduct that govern public statements about a criminal defendant, as well as a rule that prohibits conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The Tacoma News Tribune obtained the disciplinary counsel letter recommending a hearing. According to that letter, the two assistant prosecutors trying Nemetz and Lindquist’s spokeswoman all recommended that he decline the invitation to appear on Grace’s show.
Lindquist’s Attorney, Steven Fogg, claims the complaint is politically motivated and that there is no chance Lindquist will be suspended for his actions.
This is not the first time Lindquist has courted controversy during his seven year tenure in office. He has incurred almost $2 million in legal fees, at the taxpayers’ expense, including almost $600,000 spent in a dispute over whether the district attorney’s text messages are public records or private communications.
The Washington Supreme court unanimously ruled against Lindquist in that case, stating that he couldn’t claim all of his text messages were private because he was communicating from a private phone. The ruling asserted that Lindquist’s texts are public if public business is discussed.
Lindquist continues to argue that his texts are private, even though some involve communication with other county employees. His stance cost the county $118,000 in fees and fines when a judge ruled that Lindquist had to turn over text messages requested by a critic. That case also cost the county about $325,000 in legal fees, which was part of the $2 million figure..
There is also currently a whistleblower lawsuit pending against Lindquist. The lawsuit argues that he has been vindictive and has created a hostile work environment. The Pierce County Human Resources Department issued a 67-page report finding that Lindquist ordered his prosecutors not to strike plea deals with a group of defense attorneys who had angered him, bragged that he would get $100,000 in free publicity from the shooting of four police officers for his re-election campaign, and maintained that he had advanced the careers of some of his favorite employees in the hopes of making them judges.
“I elect judges, the people don’t,” Lindquist is quoted as saying in the report.
Lindquist’s office also has the highest rate of reversed convictions in the state.
The Seattle Times called for Lindquist to resign in a December 2015 editorial, writing that he “has managed to squander a once-promising career in public service. His unwillingness to accept responsibility for a dysfunctional office telegraphs his leadership style — and his values.”