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Franklin County prosecutor says judges went behind his back

By Wendy Culverwell Tri-City Herald

An unusual suit over who controls court records in Franklin County has expanded to include the county prosecutor and is headed to the Washington State Supreme Court.

Late Friday afternoon, Prosecutor Shawn Sant petitioned the state’s highest court to review whether the seven Superior Court judges violated due process in their paperless records suit against the county clerk.

The dispute arose after Sant revoked the special deputy prosecutor status of W. Dale Kamerrer, who was representing the bicounty judges, after it appeared the case was resolved.

The same day, all seven judges signed an administrative order reappointing Kamerrer to be a special deputy prosecutor and ordering the county to pay his fees. The Olympia attorney bills at $250 an hour.

There was no public hearing and Sant said he was not notified of the order. He called the move an intrusion into the role of prosecutor under state law.

In a sign of the growing interest in Franklin County’s courthouse dispute, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys is supporting Sant.

The WAPA board voted to assign a staff attorney, Pamela Loginsky, to represent Sant as a special deputy prosecutor.

Separately, the Washington Association of County Clerks is supporting Clerk Michael Killian’s position that the clerk is responsible for maintaining court records.

The appeal filed Friday asks the supreme court to review if the local judges violated due process by entering an order in which they had a personal interest.

It also asks the high court to consider who is responsible for appointing special deputy prosecutors. Sant and case law suggest it is the role of the elected prosecutor.

“Whether members of the judiciary may expend public funds in secret hearings to benefit themselves is a question of broad public import that requires a prompt and definitive answer,” the appeal asserts.

Judges Alex Ekstrom, Bruce Spanner, Joseph Burrowes, Cameron Mitchell, Jacqueline Shea-Brown, Carrie Runge and Samuel Swanberg sued Killilan in March over his refusal to follow their instructions to maintain paper court files as well as the electronic records.

The case was assigned to Kittitas County Superior Court.

Killian finished the transition to Washington’s Odyssey records management earlier this year, saying it had performed without any problems.

The unusual case presented Franklin County with a dilemma – asking taxpayers to pay for attorneys on both sides of a legal fight.

The county hired an Eastern Washington attorney to represent Killian, and Kamerrer was named a special deputy prosecutor to represent the judges.

Later, the county commission decided that while it is obligated to defend Killian, the target of the suit, it is not responsible for voluntary litigation. It opted to stop paying Kamerrer’s legal fees.

The case appeared to be resolved when Killian agreed to provide judges with paper copies of court documents if they request them.

Sant revoked Kamerrer’s deputy status but the judges reinstated it the same day.

The original lawsuit is pending, with a hearing set July 13 in Kittitas County.

Killian filed a responsed to the suit on Friday, disputing the judge’s complaints.

There’s more at stake than his office, he told the Herald. “This is about all clerks in the state,” he said.

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