Supreme Court rules former coroner overstepped as ‘investigator’
OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court says former Grant County Coroner Jerry Jasman can no longer serve the county as either a deputy coroner or as a coroner’s chief investigator.
The ruling last week unanimously turned down an appeal from Jasman and his boss, current Coroner Craig Morrison, and ruled that Jasman’s criminal conviction for terrorizing a deputy coroner in his employ made him ineligible to carry out key duties such as signing death certificates.
“… We will not allow an elected official to circumvent the forfeiture statute by allowing an ‘employee’ to wear a ‘deputy’ hat,” Justice Susan Owens wrote for the court’s nine members.
The justices also denied Morrison’s plea to have his attorney’s costs and court fees reimbursed, saying he was not entitled to a special prosecutor’s representation when he intervened in the case against Jasman.
Morrison’s staff said he was out of the office and not reachable when The Wenatchee World called seeking comment.
Jasman was Grant County’s elected coroner in 2009 when he was charged with unlawful imprisonment for keeping his deputy coroner, Lynette Henson, against her will in his moving county vehicle. Jasman verbally abused Henson and refused to take her home or let her exit the vehicle, despite her pleas. She recorded the incident on her cellphone and provided the soundfile to law enforcement.
Jasman, coroner since 2001, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, served a one-day jail sentence and resigned his post. The state’s forefeiture statute bars anyone with a criminal conviction from serving in public office.
After Morrison was elected coroner in 2010, he swore in Jasman as his deputy, noting his experience in the office. Then-Prosecutor D. Angus Lee argued the post of deputy coroner is a public office and Jasman was ineligible. Morrison renamed Jasman as “chief investigator,” although he continued to hold the deputy title and signed four death certificates in coroner’s investigations.
Lee sued Jasman in 2012, seeking his removal. Jasman then resigned his deputy post but continued to act as chief investigator. Morrison joined the suit as a defendant alongside Jasman, but at trial Superior Court Judge John Hotchkiss refused to appoint a special prosecutor to manage Morrison’s defense.
Both Hotchkiss, visiting from Douglas County court, and the three-judge Court of Appeals held that Jasman unlawfully acted as a “public officer” in the investigator’s position, despite his criminal record. The Supreme Court ruling finds that as chief investigator, Jasman was allowed to function as a deputy coroner and discharge a county coroner’s duties.
“Therefore, we hold that both positions are ‘public officer’ positions and that Jasman may not hold either position,” Owens wrote.
In addition, the court ruled, Morrison was not entitled to have his court costs and attorney’s fees reimbursed, since the case brought against Jasman did not seek money damages or involve Morrison directly as a party.
— By Jefferson Robbins, Wenatchee World