Stevens County remains in limbo until judge makes action on commissioners return to work

RaeLynn Ricarte

Spokane Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno, who has been presiding over the county's homelessness fund dispute, will hear arguments in a special legal action to decide whether the three commissioners can still hold their elected offices. George Ahrend, the attorney for Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen, filed the “quo warranto” action against Commissioners Wes McCart, Don Dashiell and Steve Parker last week.

That action is used to resolve a dispute about whether a specific person has the legal right to remain in office.

Rasmussen said a quo warranto challenge is usually expedited, with a 20-day time frame for an answer.

Through Ahrend, he has asked Moreno to impose a temporary restraining order that prevents Parker, McCart and Dashiell from conducting county business or returning to their offices.
Rasmussen wants the restraining order in place until the quo warranto decision has been made.

Commissioner Steve Parker said it’s an “affront” to the people that the government leaders they elected are now unable to fulfill their duties. He said many projects and programs are now stalled, including the award of $1 million or more of federal stimulus dollars to businesses that are struggling due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandates to stop spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The economic shutdown has left many retailers and service providers on the edge of closure, so it is vital to get CARES Act funding distributed as quickly as possible, he said.

Money not used by the end of October returns to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, so time is of the essence to get decisions made and the funds out the door, said Parker.

“This lawsuit has been going on for a year and half and we have been conducting business for the people all that time, so it’s astounding that the prosecutor has now decided that we have to be out of office before the judge has even finished deciding matters in this case,” he said.

“These actions by the prosecutor show his vindictiveness. You can’t tell me this is all in the name of justice. What he is doing is harmful, it is creating chaos in the county’s functions.”

Rasmussen said after Moreno ruled two weeks ago that the commissioners and their bonding company were liable for unconstitutional gifting of $130,326 in public funds, state law requires their offices to be vacated.

Moreno will decide on Sept. 25 whether the commissioners should pay interest on the money they have since repaid to the county, as well as Ahrend’s attorney fees. She has already ruled that the commissioners cannot use public funds to cover the fees they pay to Kirkpatrick and Startzel, the Spokane firm representing them.

Rasmussen said people tend to align themselves with one party or the other when something like this happens, but the case has gone beyond the point of personalities. He said Moreno’s ruling established that something illegal had occurred and his subsequent actions are what the law now requires.

“In all this, the truth about what this is all about sometimes gets obscured,” he said. “It is not about personalities or motives.

“This is about the illegal gifting of public money by corrupt officials to private entities. It about violations of the law and the constitution. It is about holding people accountable for their conduct. It is about whether or not anyone is above the law. The wheels of justice turn slowly but they do keep turning.”

The commissioners’ legal team has taken the stance that Moreno’s latest ruling is not the final judgment in the case, so Rasmussen should take no action until after the next hearing.

Read more about this story in the Sept. 2, 2020 Statesman-Examiner