October 14, 2011 in City

Washington bar clears prosecutor

Lawyer sought money for charity
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Washington State Bar Association has dismissed a complaint that Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen improperly solicited contributions for a Guatemalan orphanage.

A three-member review committee found unanimously that there was insufficient evidence to prove Rasmussen acted unethically when he steered defense attorneys to a charity called International Children’s Care.

The ruling reflected the recommendation of bar association investigators except that it didn’t include an “advisory letter.”

The letter would have warned Rasmussen to avoid the appearance of impropriety. It would not have constituted disciplinary action.

Rasmussen said Thursday he was “relieved that the truth was ‘outed,’ ” but he acknowledged the problem of appearances.

“I think I made myself vulnerable to political attack,” he said. “I told the state bar about a year ago that I would no longer do anything along these lines, and I will stand by that.”

The grievance was filed by the county’s two Superior Court judges, Rebecca Baker and Al Nielson. The judges told the bar association they were concerned that defense attorneys’ donations would be “favorably remembered” by Rasmussen.

A bar investigator said records showed some of the donor attorneys had no cases in Stevens County since Rasmussen’s election, some had only two or three and some had between 10 and 20.

“I accept the bar association’s conclusion, and am confident that I’ll be able to work with Tim Rasmussen in the future,” Nielson said.

Baker, whose retirement is effective today, called the bar investigation “pretty superficial.”

“All they did was talk to the people that were directly involved with the donations and, of course, they are not going to admit that they had any motive,” she said.

Baker, Nielson and Rasmussen agree on one thing: The bar took far too long to complete its investigation. The complaint was lodged in September 2009.

A secretary’s telephone message to Rasmussen in February 2009, copied by a former deputy prosecutor, figured prominently in the judges’ complaint. The note said Spokane attorney David Miller “had a good month” and asked, “Does your charity need anything?”

Bar investigators said Miller and seven other defense attorneys described themselves as friends of Rasmussen. They “considered their donations of $50 to $500 a purely personal matter” that didn’t win preferential treatment.

The donations to International Children’s Care began while Rasmussen was a Spokane County deputy prosecutor.

Rasmussen was elected in 2006, and the donations became an issue in his 2010 re-election campaign.

He became a supporter of International Children’s Care while drilling wells in Guatemala for another charity, Water for Life International, of which he is a board member.

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