In a written decision, King County Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas said today that Republican gubernatorial challenger Dino Rossi must be deposed before Election Day in the Buildergate lawsuit, which alleges the Republican illegally coordinated with the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) to raise supposedly independent funds that now benefit his campaign.
Lawyers for Rossi had argued that a deposition before Nov. 4 would have deprived him of critical campaign time and been an undue burden. But Kallas rejected the claim, ruling today that "it is precisely because Mr. Rossi seeks public office that he must bear the burden of the contemplated deposition." Rossi will be deposed Wednesday.
The decision is a major victory for supporters of Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire who hope that Rossi's testimony will aid in the incumbent governor's re-election campaign.
Knoll Lowney, the attorney who brought the suit against the BIAW on behalf of two former state Supreme Court justices, told the court on Friday that he intends to prove the builders' group "improperly swayed the outcome of the election" by backing Rossi with more than $6 million in campaign funds, which were supposed to be raised and spent independent of his campaign. Lowney also says the allegations could potentially force a "re-do" election if Rossi wins office.
Rossi and the BIAW have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the case. BIAW lawyer Harry Korrell argues Lowney wanted to rush the proceedings and force Rossi to be deposed before Nov. 4 to make "fodder for a news release." He also called the suit "political theater" and a planned "October surprise" to persuade voters not to support Rossi. Lowney contests "the public has a right to any significant information" about whether Rossi and the BIAW violated campaign finance laws.
The court's decision also comes the same day as other bad news for Rossi: a new University of Washington poll showing Gregoire leading 51 percent to 45 percent. A Rasmussen Reports poll published Wednesday said Gregoire had a two-point lead. State pollster Stuart Elway's numbers from last week showed the governor with a 12-point lead. (Though, as I've previously explained, Elway has been wrong before.) If Buildergate coverage continues to dominate headlines up until Nov. 4, as is likely, Gregoire's slim lead in the polls is likely to expand. As for whether the deposition and subsequent news coverage prove to be the coup de grÃ¢ce for Rossi on Nov. 5 'êÂ I wouldn't be surprised.