Scott Lange implores County Commissioners: Investigate Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

Mark Nichols in office (2)


(Scott Lange, a taxpayer from Clallam Bay, sends this letter to the county commissioners suggesting they initiate an investigation of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to determine if the county is liable for other expensive lawsuits such as the ones uncovered by Lange.)

Readers may remember Scott Lange.  Lange is the litigant who bit into the county like a bulldog two decades ago and held on ripping and growling and biting higher and higher up the leg of county government until the county prosecutor’s office shamefacedly paid him a half million taxpayer dollars. This after wasting millions of dollars fighting a no-win proposition.  They knew Lange was right all along but apparently thought they could price him out of the game by bringing the entire weight of county government to bear on a single taxpayer.  Lange spent a quarter million dollars of his own money fighting the county.  He finally won.  However, on the eve of the settlement Lange believes the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office continued to withhold records responsive to his requests.

What started out in 1997 as a violation by the county of the Shoreline Management Act, issuance of a non-conforming building permit to a crony with friends at the courthouse.  The county prosecutor’s office attempted to protect this county screw-up for 20 years at taxpayer expense.

As things like this do it morphed into yet another violation by the county of the Public Records Act.  It was this public records act violation that finally exposed the county to the serious financial exposure.  Even when the county miraculous “found” the records  requested–in the basement–right where Selinda Barkhuis, County Treasurer, told them the records were located–in 2013, Lange now believes records were still with held during settlement talks.

After fighting a bad proposition–the county’s issuance of a non conforming building permit–fighting this infraction for 20 years, Lange still did not seek the jugular vein in settlement talks.  He still asked for what he first asked for 20 years ago–removal of the offending structure built with a bogus building permit. 

Even so, as magnanimous as Lange was in the settlement talks, Lange now believes the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office sand bagged him on several other records which Lange never received until AFTER the settlement agreement.  Lange believes he can prove fraud in this latest action and, in this letter, is calling upon the county commissioners to investigate the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to determine if the county has even more exposure waiting to erupt into another expensive boil on the county’s butt.

Here’s the letter Lange sent to County Officials:

Thank you Selinda for introducing courage, honesty and integrity into what has been an excessively long running dialogue.  You do exceptional work, both in the affidavit and from what I saw on managing the Code Compliance project. 
 
It seems, apparently,  there were a good deal more records/documents withheld from discovery than the three emails Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Brian Wendt recently highlighted – you know, the ones contained in the tome about why the County didn’t commit fraud because on the eve of the “final” agreement they were quietly slipped to my associate counsel.  It seems we have enough evidence here to conclude there was indeed records sandbagging by the Prosecuting Attorney’s office.  To be technically accurate – abuse of discovery rules by withholding material documents and common law fraud by intentionally and actively misrepresenting the facts.
 
Now, I guess, we understand why a Past Board decided William Payne was a better choice for Prosecuting Attorney than Mark Nichols.  I hope this Board is as astute as that one.
 
My instinctive responses are that you commissioners should conduct an executive review of the situation.  I’ll suggest a few questions to consider.
 
·         The first question to ask is what you as commissioners should do when you know your prosecuting attorney’s office is actively manipulating and violating the law.  Lawyers may hold client transgressions in confidence, but the rules change when the transgressors are the attorney.
 
·         This should lead to the second question, was Mark Nichols and staff acting within the scope of their duties when they were actively circumventing both the Shoreline Management Act and the Public Records Act?  Mr. Nichols conduct spans the period where he was a staff employee and an elected official.  Did either capacity authorize him to manipulate and violate the law?
 
·         Which leads to the third question, if they are deemed to have been out-of-scope and legal violations deemed ultra vires, does Mr. Nichols and PAO staff members face potential personal culpability and liability for their actions?  Based on what is now known, is the County through the Board going to offer a defense and indemnification to PAO members involved in this travesty of justice? 
 
·         All leading up to the fourth question, should these matters be independently investigated by, perhaps, the State AG?  If such investigation should occur, PAO members should be reminded not to destroy or mutilate public and private email and text messages which may address the subject matter.  Having been so eloquent in demanding Ms. Barkhuis’ non-official emails Mr. Nichols will no doubt surrender up his non-official records as well. 
 
·         And, stepping up to a more strategic view – and speaking personally from my perspective – knowing how the County PAO dealt with matters over the history of my land use and PRA complaints – is this how you want governance to be delivered to your constituents?  Do citizens have to hire lawyers and play cat-and-mouse with shifty County lawyers in order to enforce the law?
 
·         And finally, which of you have the courage to be clients like Selinda?  I suspect she is one of the few people in a long, long time to stand up to the excessive power wielded by the PAO.  It’s a great story for women, I think.  Integrity meets sleaze and integrity wins.  Conscientious citizens like me, and brave women like Selinda aren’t the ones who should have to pay the price for misguided lawyers like Mark Nichols.  Now you three have to decide whether this is another pile of dirt to sweep under the rug or whether it’s time for a come to Jesus discussion on the boundaries of legal ethics and conduct.  Point blank, your PAO needs some work living up to the standards of their profession.
 
The people can use an education on what to expect and not to expect from their elected officials.
 
Thank you again Selinda for the organization and clarity you have provided. 

 

4 Comments

  1. Anon

    We are not holding our collective breaths waiting for the County Commissioners to do anything about this, after all that has happened, are we?

    Their track record is so poor.

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth Stallings

    Since nothing will be done to correct any violations of the law or unethical behavior by any of the commissioners and Mr. Lange continues to feel that public records were kept from him despite his request until after he had settled with the county, shouldn’t someone outside county government be in charge of investigating these crimes? Because crimes are what they are even if the penalty is only monetary. I do not believe the commissioners would fairly investigate anything. At the very least all public record requests and the responses to them should be looked at and I would think that any civil or criminal court cases Mark Nichols has been involved in defending or prosecuting should be looked at to make sure he lawfully produced all evidentiary materials at his disposal. Given his position in county government, his adherence to the law should be above reproach and it is not.

    Reply
    1. Anon

      For both cities and counties, the oversight is supposed to come from: (a) the state AG, (b) the federal DOJ (usually civil rights division), or (c) private civil actions by those with “standing” to challenge the official misdeeds or omissions at issue.

      I’ve seen innumerable Clallam County actions for which a lawsuit or administrative complaint to state or federal departments is the only possible corrective measure. Any suggestion that the county police itself, esp. through Mr.Nichols, is a joke.
      But maybe that’s why Mr. Lange’s counsel advised this letter, to exhaust all possible administrative remedies prior to another legal action?

      Reply
  3. Elizabeth Stallings

    I was reading the Daily News story today about the Clallam county commissioners new policy on Public records requests(like the last policy was not completely freaking clear) and the story ended on this note from Jones…

    “Customer service for the people who want the information should be one of our highest callings,” Jones said in the May 1 work session.

    “But [there are] people who literally do not even want the information. In fact, they hope you ignore them or don’t provide enough routine backup to prove you didn’t ignore them so that they can sue later to get a nuisance claim settled.”

    LANGE OH LANGE I realize you are probably sick of lawsuits but if I were you I would sue the pants off of these assholes.

    Reply

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