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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

AG lets go of lawyer who OK’d email deletion by Oso experts

By Gene Johnson Associated Press

SEATTLE – A longtime employee of the Washington Attorney General’s Office has been let go after it came to light that he knew the state’s expert witnesses in litigation over the deadly Oso landslide were deleting emails that should have been preserved.

Mark Jobson, a special assistant attorney general, parted ways with the office “by mutual agreement” when his contract expired Sept. 30, Peter Lavallee, a spokesman for the office, said Tuesday. Jobson did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

The announcement came hours after King County Superior Court Judge Roger Rogoff announced he would sanction the state over the deletion of the emails. Rogoff did not set a dollar figure on the sanctions but said they would include costs that lawyers for slide victims incurred because of the deletions, along with a “significant” punitive amount.

The judge also said the jury in the case, which is scheduled for opening statements Monday, will be allowed to infer that the experts deleted the emails because they would have hurt the state’s case.

“The state’s behavior in this case was willful,” Rogoff wrote. “They knew they were deleting emails that contained potentially relevant evidence.”

In an emailed statement, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he respected the judge’s decision and that his office has already begun developing new training programs to prevent such problems from recurring. The office continues trying to recover and turn over the deleted emails, he said.

Victims of the slide, which killed 43 people in March 2014, argued that the state and a timber company should be held liable, based on the notion that their actions – including the construction of a sediment retention wall and logging – made the hillside more dangerous and that they failed to warn residents of the danger. Their attorneys say damages could top $100 million.

Jobson worked as an assistant attorney general from 1992 until he retired in 2015. He was then hired as a special assistant attorney general on a $200,000 yearlong contract to defend the state against claims related to the landslide, according to a copy of the contract provided by the attorney general.