Political Tiff Now Takes In Two Counties The Question: Who’ll Foot Bill For Legal Battle?
A political rhubarb pitting Adams County’s prosecutor and three county commissioners has spilled into Spokane County and raised questions over who will foot the bill for the legal battle being waged.
Embattled Adams County Prosecutor David Sandhaus has hired a Spokane County deputy prosecutor for help against the three commissioners who have threatened to remove him from office over budgetary and personality clashes.
The hiring of Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Martin Muench prompted Spokane County Commissioner Phil Harris to question how and when Adams County will pay the bills that Sandhaus will amass.
“We commissioners have not authorized giving any money or an attorney’s time to Adams County for this,” Harris said. “I just want to be sure that we get paid for the work our person is doing for them.”
Muench was hired by Sandhaus three weeks ago to prepare legal responses to a continuing battle he’s facing in Ritzville, the county seat of normally placid Adams County.
Sandhaus said Friday it’s still uncertain how the bills on his behalf will be paid.
“We’ll make sure we keep a close tab on the hours Martin works. I and Jim (Spokane County Prosecutor) Sweetser have worked out a fair hourly rate that will be the basis for payment,” Sandhaus said.
During a commissioners meeting in Spokane last week, Harris said: “I can tell you their commissioners (in Ritzville) are not happy with this county.”
He said prosecutors in other Eastern Washington counties declined to help Sandhaus.
The fracas between Sandhaus and other Adams County officials goes back more than a year. He has attacked the commissioners for interfering with his hiring practices and his prosecution policy.
The commissioners have said he’s acted belligerently toward them, refusing to stay within his budget and resisting efforts to reconcile differences.
In December, the commissioners forced Sandhaus to post a $5,000 bond, which is required of all elected officials and protects taxpayers from cost overruns or misdeeds.
They said the bond - and a $10,000 supplement - will be needed to cover about $7,600 Sandhaus spent in excess of his 1996 department budget.
Sandhaus contends the overrun is not nearly that large.
Sandhaus said it’s premature to discuss what legal options he’ll pursue to resolve the budget battle and the overall political tension he’s facing.
He’s indicated he could sue the commissioners for misconduct, trying to prove the commissioners acted with malice and conspired to remove him from office.
In that case, one option would be securing a civil judgment against the commissioners the same way he’s been targeted - through their posted elected official bonds.
“In that way, we’d go after them as individuals, making them personally liable rather than trying to force the taxpayers of Adams County to pay for this,” Sandhaus said.
Muench said he’s working on Sandhaus’ legal matters in “my spare time” when possible.
Adams County Commissioner Shawn Logan said he’s sorry to see the dispute turn litigious “because it’ll become expensive and messy.”
He suggested that efforts by Sandhaus to have either Adams County or the commissioners personally pay the legal costs of a lawsuit might not be successful.
“We’re not sure exactly what Mr. Muench is doing for David. It’s possible that it comes down to personal legal advice, and in that case, that’s not something that would be covered by county money,” Logan said.