Judge halts effort to recall state auditor

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A move to impeach indicted State Auditor Troy Kelley is underway in Olympia, but legislative leaders say lawmakers have more pressing problems to tackle.

A Pierce County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that there is insufficient justification for a recall petition of indicted State Auditor Troy Kelley.

However, the petitioner, Will Knedlik, said he will appeal the ruling to the Washington Supreme Court.

Kelley, who is on a leave of absence to battle criminal charges, chose not to attend Friday's court session.

Judge Frank Cuthbertson noted that Knedlik's petition did not mention Kelley's federal indictment on 10 counts of tax and legal fraud, the governor's request for Kelley's resignation, or Kelley's leave to prepare for a trial, tentatively set for June 8.

Instead, Knedlik is seeking a voters' recall referendum based on Kelley’s apparently living outside Olympia; perceived inadequacies on the state’s auditing of Sound Transit; and for allegedly pressuring the auditor's agency managers to hire Jason JeRue, a former Kelley business colleague, to a part-time technical writer's job despite being based in California. Acting State Auditor Jan Jutte terminated JeRue last week, as soon as Kelley went on a leave.

Cuthbertson ruled that Knedlik did not provide specifics on his allegation to show that that Kelley committed misfeasance or malfeasance, or broke his oath of office -- matters that would be the legal basis for a recall petition.

The state constitution requires some officials to live in the capital. The judge, however, cited a 1958 state Supreme Court ruling that statewide elected officials are allowed to drive as commuters to Olympia. Kelley has a home in Tacoma. It was not determined Friday whether he might have a separate residence in Olympia. Also, Cuthbertson concluded that Kelley had the right to have JeRue hired.

The judge added that state audits of Sound Transit in 2009 and 2011 – before Kelley took office -- found that agency to be in good shape and that Knedlik’s disagreement with the good-shape conclusion of a 2013 audit during Kelley's tenure is not a sufficient cause for a recall petition.

After the ruling, Knedlik said, "The reality is that I think our constitution was eviscerated today." The Olympia residency requirement was put in the state constitution in 1889.

Knedlik, a disbarred attorney, said he did not address the indictments and resignation request in his recall petition because it would have delayed the timetable for sending the recall petition through the appropriate legal channels.

The state attorney general's office defended Kelley on the Sound Transit issue. "Mr. Kelley cannot be recalled from office because of a disagreement that something should have been done differently with Sound Transit," argued Jeffrey Even of the Attorney General’s office.

Attorney Jeff Helsdon defended Kelley on the Olympia residency and JeRue matters. He was happy with the ruling, but added that Knedlik's litigation is not frivolous. Helsdon said the case involved balancing the issue of the public's right to a recall with an officials’ discretion in discharging his duties. Referring to the judge’s ruling that the recall petition lacked merit, he said, "To say something is without merit is not the same as saying it is frivolous."


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8