SANDPOINT – There’s sufficient evidence to try a Bonner County election official in a case in which it’s alleged she told someone it was OK to lie about the signature gathering process in a school district recall election, a magistrate judge has ruled.
Bonner County Clerk Ann Dutson-Sater is scheduled to be arraigned in 1st District Court on Nov. 3, the Bonner County Daily Bee reported. The subornation of perjury charge stems from a recall effort against a Lake Pend Oreille School District trustee who introduced a plan to arm teachers. The recall was called off in January due to a procedural error.
Dutson-Sater and Deputy Clerk Charlie Wurm both faced election malfeasance charges following the recall, but those charges were dismissed.
Magistrate Justin W. Julian, in dismissing the malfeasance charges, said the state didn’t prove there was malfeasance and noted people make mistakes, including those who act in official capacities, but that doesn’t make them felons.
But he ruled that trying Dutson-Sater on the subornation of perjury was justified because that involved a document that contained unambiguous language about the requirements Dutson-Sater needed to follow.
The subornation of perjury comes from allegations Dutson-Sater allowed a recall backer, Tom Bokowy, to attest under penalty of perjury that he witnessed all the signatures for the recall being obtained.
Bokowy testified at the hearing in magistrate court that he estimated witnessing about 60 or 70 percent of the signatures being gathered. He said Dutson-Sater told him he could attest because he saw a majority of the signatures being gathered.
Bonner County Commissioner Mike Nielsen testified Dutson-Sater told him the same thing during a conversation they had.
An assistant in the elections office, Deborah Christopherson, said Wurm and Dutson-Sater were new to their jobs and didn’t receive training on how to handle a recall election. Christopherson also testified neither Wurm nor Dutson-Sater had contempt for election laws or tried to undermine them.
Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh contended that the two election officials have an obligation to properly know how to do their jobs.
“In this particular case there was a, from our perspective, willful neglect with regards to not only knowing what the requirements were but then complying with them,” McHugh said.
Joshua Hickey, Dutson-Sater’s attorney, said there was no evidence of an agreement between Dutson-Sater and Bokowy and no evidence of willful neglect.
Dutson-Sater, a Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Michael Rosedale for the Bonner County clerk post in the Nov. 4 general election.
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