Hearing officer: Ex-prosecutor’s ‘vindictiveness’ deserves reprimand
SEATTLE — Former Grant County Prosecutor D. Angus Lee acted out of “vindictiveness, seeking revenge in a spiteful and retaliatory manner” when he tried to force conflicts of interest within his own staff, a state bar hearing officer ruled Monday.
In a finding filed with the Washington State Bar Association, hearing officer Terence M. Ryan recommended a formal reprimand against Lee — who lost reelection in November — for attempting to coerce deputy prosecutor Albert Lin to take on criminal cases that Lin sought to refer to the state Attorney General.
“(Lee’s) mental state, and his motivation for acting the way he did, was one of vindictiveness, seeking revenge in a spiteful and retaliatory manner against those who he perceived had crossed him,” Ryan wrote.
Lee’s attorney in the disciplinary matter, Leland G. Ripley, could not be reached for comment this morning.
The hearing officer’s recommendation for reprimand becomes final if not appealed, but it does not endanger Lee’s license to practice law. Reprimands are placed on an attorney’s public record with the courts.
The case arose early in Lee’s career as prosecutor, after he was appointed to the post in 2009 with then-Prosecutor John Knodell’s elevation to Superior Court judge. The matter has dogged him for years in civil lawsuits and at the bar association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
A bar complaint filed in 2009 claimed Lee had a conflict of interest in handling a police report involving an administrative assistant he had fired from his office, who was suing the county for wrongful termination. The WSBA found cause to believe Lee transgressed in handling the administrative assistant’s matter, and further accused Lee of violating ethics when he asked deputy prosecutor Lin, who was running against Lee for prosecutor in a November 2009 special election, to take on cases that were a conflict of interest for Lin or for the office.
Lee won that election, and did not reappoint Lin as deputy.
Ryan’s ruling found that Lee ignored multiple memos from Lin warning that the cases should be assigned to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution, and that Lee accused Lin of insubordination for refusing to take the cases. In doing so, Ryan wrote, Lee “acted knowingly in harassing a Deputy Prosecutor working in his office, knowing that it would amount to a conflict of interest” if Lin handled the matters.
Lee’s actions violated three different Rules of Professional Conduct mandated by the state courts, involving misconduct, conflict of interest and oversight, Ryan wrote.
Lee was admitted to the bar in 2005 and had only served two years as a deputy prosecutor when he took over the office. Ryan wrote that Lee’s “inexperience in the practice of law” was a mitigating factor when considering how he should be disciplined.
Lee lost reelection in November to Garth Dano, and now practices law in Vancouver.
Lin is pressing a wrongful termination lawsuit against Grant County over his dismissal, which is currently set for trial in June in Chelan County Superior Court.
— By Jefferson Robbins, Wenatchee World