February 14, 1995 in City

Governor’s Top Legal Adviser Calls It Quits Lowry Insists Resignation Not Tied To Sex Harassment Case

David Ammons Associated Press
 
Tags:ethics

Gov. Mike Lowry’s chief lawyer has abruptly resigned, stranding him amid a sexual harassment probe. The governor insisted Monday it had nothing to do with the investigation, however.

Jenny Durkan, a Seattle attorney who joined the governor’s staff as executive counsel and political director less than six months ago, announced her resignation in a letter that made only oblique reference to the firestorm surrounding Lowry.

Her departure was widely seen as a break with the governor at a critical juncture, but Lowry denied it repeatedly.

The governor’s former deputy press secretary, Susanne Albright, has accused him of repeated and persistent acts of sexual harassment, including unwanted physical touching.

She has not elaborated and has not filed either a sexual harassment complaint or a lawsuit.

She went on medical leave in November and quit the $48,000-a-year post last month.

Durkan has been the governor’s lead attorney in dealing with Albright and her attorney, Larry Finegold. Durkan was instrumental in appointing an outsider, Seattle attorney Mary Alice Theiler, to investigate the allegations.

Lowry confirmed Monday that he and Durkan had an intense, lengthy meeting Thursday that included discussions of what he termed “the present situation.” The meeting ended with her revealing her decision to leave, but it was not announced until Monday, with the governor hoping she would change her mind or at least stay on longer.

“I wish she could have stayed,” he said. “She is one of my most important advisers. Continues to be.”

Lowry made two speeches Monday, to a small business conference and to a community college trustees’ convention, making no reference to his difficulties.

Durkan’s letter of resignation, released by the governor’s office, neither expresses support for the governor in his sexual harassment troubles, nor breaks with him. The attorney-client privilege would prevent her from speaking out publicly on whether she believes him.

Durkan could not be reached for elaboration. She already has been rehired by her old Seattle law firm, said managing partner Jim Haley.

He called her “an all-around excellent lawyer” and said she will work on sexual harassment cases, criminal defense work and asbestos trials. He declined to say when Durkan asked for her job back or to elaborate on the reasons for leaving Lowry.

Kent Caputo, the governor’s remaining legal counsel, said Durkan’s departure should not be seen as turning against the governor.

“I don’t believe her leaving in any way makes any statement regarding this (harassment case),” he said.

Asked if she quit to express soli darity with Albright, Caputo said, “I see nothing in anything she has said or done” that indicates that signal.

Lowry released an equally vague statement accepting her resignation.

“Jenny did an outstanding job during her tenure and her wisdom and expertise will be greatly missed,” he said, adding that she had “always treated me and the people around her with fairness and respect. She is an excellent person, an extraordinary worker and a strong friend.”

Asked by a reporter last week if Lowry had ever done anything inappropriate toward her, Durkan said, “Absolutely not.”

She also said she had never seen sexual harassment toward Albright, but carefully did not deny or undermine the woman’s assertions.

Albright has referred all press calls to Finegold. He was in California on another case Monday.

Durkan, the daughter of former state Senate power and gubernatorial candidate Martin Durkan, is a feminist attorney who once represented Kari Tupper, the woman who accused then-Sen. Brock Adams of sexual improprieties.

Jenny Durkan worked for Lowry in the 1980s, when he was a congressman from the Seattle area.

MEMO: Here is the text of Jenny Durkan’s letter of resignation as Gov. Mike Lowry’s executive counsel. The letter is addressed to the governor and is dated Feb. 9, 1995.

Dear Mike: It is with deep regret that I hereby resign from my position as your executive counsel. You know how reluctant I was to leave my law practice when I joined your office in September. I took that step because it seemed I could fill an important role at a critical time in your administration. Unfortunately, the events of the last few months have created a role for me that neither of us anticipated. This has rendered it virtually impossible to do the job you brought me on to do. We have been discussing a number of possible personnel changes in the office. During this tough political climate and legislative session, the office must be structured to be as effective as possible. You do not have the luxury of making these adjustments over time. The need exists now. There is no question that in this restructuring effort, someone else would more effectively be able to do the job I originally came to do. I believe it is in both of our interests for me now to return to the practice of law. I have known you for most of my life, and have always had the deepest personal affection for you and your family. Throughout your career you have been a tireless champion for the voiceless in our society. As governor, you have worked hard to bring people together to find solutions, and have not been afraid to take on the tough challenges. You have always treated me fairly and with the greatest respect. It has been an honor to be able to serve the people of Washington. Regretfully, Jenny A. Durkan

Here is the text of Jenny Durkan’s letter of resignation as Gov. Mike Lowry’s executive counsel. The letter is addressed to the governor and is dated Feb. 9, 1995.

Dear Mike: It is with deep regret that I hereby resign from my position as your executive counsel. You know how reluctant I was to leave my law practice when I joined your office in September. I took that step because it seemed I could fill an important role at a critical time in your administration. Unfortunately, the events of the last few months have created a role for me that neither of us anticipated. This has rendered it virtually impossible to do the job you brought me on to do. We have been discussing a number of possible personnel changes in the office. During this tough political climate and legislative session, the office must be structured to be as effective as possible. You do not have the luxury of making these adjustments over time. The need exists now. There is no question that in this restructuring effort, someone else would more effectively be able to do the job I originally came to do. I believe it is in both of our interests for me now to return to the practice of law. I have known you for most of my life, and have always had the deepest personal affection for you and your family. Throughout your career you have been a tireless champion for the voiceless in our society. As governor, you have worked hard to bring people together to find solutions, and have not been afraid to take on the tough challenges. You have always treated me fairly and with the greatest respect. It has been an honor to be able to serve the people of Washington. Regretfully, Jenny A. Durkan


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