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

WA AG candidate faces blowback for ‘leave of absence’ claim

By Claire Withycombe Seattle Times

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Manka Dhingra, a Democrat from Redmond who is running for state attorney general, first faced questions earlier this summer for claiming in campaign materials that she was still working for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The controversy took another turn in recent days, when Dhingra’s campaign updated her website to say that she is on a leave of absence from the job.

But the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office says that’s not the case, and that Dhingra hasn’t worked there since 2021.

Dhingra maintains that she is on leave.

“The arrangement has always been that when I am not running for an election, a competitive election, I go back to work,” Dhingra said.

“I think they have to figure out internally what’s going on,” Dhingra said. “And then let me know, because I’ve asked.”

Contacted by The Seattle Times on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the prosecuting attorney’s office referred to emails HR exchanged with Dhingra in June stating that she was not on leave.

In Washington’s Aug. 6 primary, Dhingra will face fellow Democrat Nick Brown and Republican Pete Serrano. They are all running for the state’s top law enforcement job and to replace longtime Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has mounted a bid for governor.

Dhingra, the chair of the Senate’s policy committee on law and justice, has touted her law enforcement background on the campaign trail.

According to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Dhingra worked there from May 2000 to August 2017, and again for several months each in 2019 and 2021.

In an email on June 20, the office’s director of human resources, Heidi Parkington-Thal, asked Dhingra to correct her campaign materials, according to emails provided by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office through a public records request.

Brandi Kruse, host of the politics podcast unDivided, first reported on the discrepancy in June.

“It came to our attention through a news reporter that you are stating you are a current senior deputy prosecuting attorney with the (office) rather than a former senior deputy,” Parkington-Thal wrote.

Dhingra replied that King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion told her she was “on a leave of absence” and considers her a current employee.

Parkington-Thal responded the next day that she spoke to Manion, who did “not recall this conversation.” Manion took office as the elected King County Prosecuting Attorney in early 2023, taking over from Dan Satterberg.

Parkington-Thal reiterated the point in another email a few days later, telling Dhingra that their HR and payroll records “do not reflect that you have been on leave at any time since your resignation email dated Oct. 1, 2021.”

“We understand you may have had a conversation with Dan Satterberg while he was still the Prosecutor which led you to believe that you were on leave after your resignation, but Leesa does not recollect being part of such a conversation, or having such a conversation with you after she was elected,” Parkington-Thal wrote. “Please know that our office does not currently consider you to be on leave.”

Dhingra then emailed back, forwarding an exchange from October 2021 between her, Manion and Satterberg. Dhingra had written to them to say it was her last day for 2021 and that she looked forward to “incorporating” staff ideas on improving the justice system in 2022.

Satterberg replied “It is always good to welcome you back home after session and our office is a better place because of you. The offer remains in place for 2022, of course.” Manion then wrote, “Agreed! Thank you, Manka. It is awesome to have you as a colleague and as a lawmaker.”

Dhingra’s campaign website was updated July 6 to say that she was on a leave of absence from the prosecutor job, according to a campaign spokesperson.

The website also says she has been endorsed by both Manion and Satterberg.

In a statement provided by Dhingra’s campaign, Satterberg said he supported her for attorney general “because of her experience and dedication.”

“I expect she would be welcomed back to the office if and when she makes her availability known,” he said.

In 2023 and 2022, Dhingra reported no income from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, according to state financial affairs disclosure reports. In 2021, she reported income of less than $29,999 from working there.

In a statement, her Democratic opponent, Brown, said the state’s next attorney general “must uphold the highest standards of honesty and transparency.”

“That’s why it’s been so troubling to see that Sen. Dhingra continues to claim to be serving as a prosecutor with the King County Prosecutor’s Office, even though she hasn’t held the position in years,” he said. “The Prosecutor’s Office has made it clear that she is not an employee nor on a leave of absence and asked her to set the record straight weeks ago.”

Her Republican opponent, Pete Serrano, said Dhingra wants voters to avoid looking at her as a legislator who he says “hamstrung” the police on pursuits of suspects and softened the state’s drug possession laws.

The legislation to raise the standard for when police can chase suspects was a House bill that Dhingra voted in favor of in 2021; legislators partially rolled back the policy in 2023 and again through an initiative brought forth by a petition supported by Washington voters this year.

After the state Supreme Court found the state’s felony drug possession statute was unconstitutional in 2021, Dhingra sponsored legislation classifying it as a misdemeanor. Legislators raised possession to a gross misdemeanor in 2023.

“I think the general notion when someone says, ‘I am a deputy prosecutor’ is the notion that the individual is going to go hard on crime,” Serrano said, “But again, when you look at what she’s done on the Senate floor, she’s really been focused on social justice policies that really impede actual justice.”

Dhingra has raised about $972,000 in campaign contributions, according to campaign finance records. Brown has raised the most out of the AG candidates, with about $1.28 million, while Serrano has raised the least, with about $193,000.