Sunday, August 19, 2007

WA - Wash. prosecutor's sexual relations raise ethical questions

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CHEHALIS - The tomcatting of the elected prosecutor in this conservative rural town has jeopardized as many as four cases brought by his office and prompted a complaint to the state bar association.

Liam Michael Golden, a Republican who ran unopposed for Lewis County prosecutor last November, is facing allegations that he did not properly disclose past sexual relationships with the mother of a victim in one case and the mother of a defendant in another. His office also charged someone with cyberstalking a woman Golden had slept with, though Golden recently turned that case over to a prosecutor from neighboring Thurston County.

The fourth case involves a 16-year-old boy charged this month with providing drugs to the mayor's 20-year-old son, leading to his fatal overdose. Some locals have questioned why any charge was brought in that case and suggested it was timed to deflect bad press.

Golden, a divorced father of two, concedes the relationships but denies any impropriety in his handling of the cases. The Washington State Bar Association is reviewing a complaint made against him. His chief criminal deputy, Jason Richards, could also be in trouble for handling plea negotiations with a juvenile arson defendant knowing that Golden had slept with the boy's mother, court documents show.

The accusations have dumbfounded people in Lewis County, a timber-and-agriculture region that's still reeling from another titillating controversy last year. Patti Prouty, a county administrator, was fired after exchanging racy text messages with on-duty law enforcement officials - including the police chief in nearby Napavine. Turns out Prouty also figures in the current scandal.

"Mike's got a lot of explaining to do," said Mark Anders, chairman of the county Republican Party. "I have some heartburn about him having affairs here, there and yonder, just from a personal moral standpoint. But in this post-Clintonian era, your personal life is your personal life, and you have to ask, 'Well, was it legal? Was it ethical?'"

Early this month, one of Golden's deputies charged a woman with sending Prouty harassing e-mails late last year. The deputy, Jonathan Richardson, says he didn't speak with Golden before filing the charge. Once Golden learned of it, he had the case transferred to a Thurston County deputy prosecutor because of Prouty's "past involvement" with Lewis County.

Golden said last week that he and Prouty had a brief affair about two years ago. But Prouty denied the affair to local reporters this week.

Anders and a retired Lewis County prosecutor, Jeremy Randolph, say Golden's conduct reflects poorly on the office, and several defense attorneys and a law professor say it's ethically troublesome.

Early this year, Golden's office prosecuted a 16-year-old boy arrested for investigation of arson. From shortly after his November election until the boy was arrested in January, Golden dated the boy's mother, Kristine Wallace, who had worked on his campaign. Golden never disclosed the relationship, and Wallace didn't tell her son's attorney, Jonathan Meyer, until after the boy pleaded guilty in juvenile court.

In a sworn declaration filed in Lewis County Superior Court, Wallace said Golden persuaded her to relate discussions with her son's attorney.

"I allowed my feelings for a man to distort my commitment to my child and cause me to do things and say things that destroyed his chances at justice," Wallace wrote.

She said that she and Golden exchanged text messages frequently about her son's court appearances and about meetings with Meyer. With her affidavit she filed pictures of text messages from Golden's cell phone number, including one that read, "This was not taken lightly and he is lucky to avoid adult court" - a statement that could be construed as dissuading her son from fighting the charge or from seeking to withdraw his guilty plea. The boy has not been sentenced.

"That's way inappropriate," said Seattle University Law School ethics professor John Strait. "One, he's giving legal advice to someone he doesn't represent. And if he's using her as a conduit to get to the defense, that's major misconduct."

Strait added that he believed Golden handled the cyberstalking case properly by having it transferred.

Meyer has asked a judge to dismiss the arson case and is seeking phone records that could shed more light on the extent of the communication between Golden and Wallace.

Meanwhile, Wallace has filed a complaint with the Washington State Bar Association. Golden responded by writing that he ended the relationship when the boy was arrested and disclosed the relationship to his chief criminal deputy. His text messages to the boy's mother "consisted of my civil responses to her communications to me," he wrote.

In a telephone interview, Golden denied using Wallace to gather information about the defense and said he never shared information about the case with his deputy prosecutors.

"I believe that ultimately, when all is heard, it will be determined that I acted appropriately," Golden said. "The allegation seems to be that I hide these things. That seems to be not true."

Wallace's complaint also raised the case of David Brosius, convicted in June of failing to register as a sex offender. Golden personally handled the case, but failed to disclose that he had dated the mother of a girl Brosius had been accused of molesting. Brosius' lawyer, Don Blair, who was trounced by Golden in the Republican primary, is seeking to have the conviction thrown out.

Richards, the chief criminal deputy, said he kept his boss apprised of developments in the case but that Golden made no decisions about it.

"That didn't have any bearing to me at all regarding what the ultimate outcome of the case was," Richards said. "I knew there had been a dating relationship, and I just knew Mr. Golden said, 'I don't want to be associated with the case.' The allegations against the defendant were supported by his confession, and the plea agreement was a standard plea agreement."

Meyer and Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle attorney who represents the boy accused of providing drugs to the mayor's son, said Richards had a duty to report his boss's affair and said they expected a bar complaint to be filed against him.

Hiatt also said he will seek to have the charge against his client thrown out, saying the charge appears to have been politically motivated to deflect attention from the Golden controversy. The death occurred about 11 months before the charge was filed; Golden says it took so long because of staff changes in his office, and nothing but the facts of the case were considered in the charging decision.

Anders, the GOP chairman, said he was stunned by the charge and more so by its timing. The sum of the allegations doesn't look good for Golden, he said.

"If the Supreme Court" - which handles lawyer discipline - "comes in and says 'no harm, no foul,' we'll see some gossip tongues wagging and it will have no real effect on Michael doing his job," Anders said. "But as more and more of this stuff comes out, any prospects for his reelection are rapidly fading."

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Slept with a defendant's mother? Holy about conflict of interest! Talk about Duress!