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(Author’s Note:  A very similar version of this article was submitted by the author and published in the Tacoma Weekly a month ago, but it still seems timely, and has been updated to reflect recent primary election results)

Mary Robnett, candidate for Pierce County Prosecutor, current AG employee

The candidate who bowed out of a write-in race against the Pierce County Prosecutor in 2014, has officially thrown her hat into the ring a second time. Mary Robnett, who left the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office in 2012 to work for the Attorney General in Seattle, has long been involved in backroom politics, but at 62-years-old she is making her first run for office. She is trying to unseat ten-year incumbent Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, who has easily won two elections, in a very strange campaign, even for Pierce County. Robnett’s agenda appears to be personal, and the election results this week indicate a tough political battle ahead.

Mark Lindquist, Pierce County Prosecutor

Grudges in the world of Pierce County politics are nothing new, but it is unusual and pretty weird when someone accused of sending a death threat to another person becomes a political donor to that same person. Campaign donations are clearly more welcome than death threats, but switching from one to the other is not common practice anywhere, even in Pierce County.

From Death Threat to Donor

In 2010, Robnett accused deputy sheriff Glenda Nissen of sending her a death threat letter. She based the accusation on evidence she received from another detective in the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. The letter was received by Robnett the same week Nissen had sent a 3:00 a.m. email to The News Tribune in Tacoma full of complaints about the Prosecutor’s Office. Nissen denied sending the death threat, but admitted sending the 3:00 am email.

Time warp forward to 2018, Robnett, now a candidate, accepted a $2,000 campaign contribution, the legal maximum, from the very same alleged death-threat sender – Glenda Nissen (see PDC report here and here).  Nissen and her attorney also have a current lawsuit pending against Pierce County. Robnett also accepted a $2,000 contribution from Nissen’s attorney according to PDC reports. This attorney alone has filed over a dozen lawsuits and other complaints against Pierce County in recent years according to public records and news accounts.

Robnett has also taken the maximum contribution from former detective Mike Ames, who has filed numerous complaints and lawsuits against the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Pierce County. Ames sued the county because the Prosecutor’s Office released “potential impeachment evidence” about him as prosecutors are required to do under the law. He lost that lawsuit in 2014. He appealed his loss, but lost the appeal, too. Ames quit his job and filed another lawsuit against the county in 2016, claiming “unlawful termination,” among other allegations.

A lot of happy people work here

Interestingly, Nissen and Ames are represented by the same attorney, Joan Mell,  who has also given the legal maximum amount to Robnett (see PDC report here) and even contributed beyond the maximum with an “independent expenditure” (see report here). If Robnett’s campaign puts her in charge of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s office, there are obviously a number of people who feel they have something to gain.

Under scrutiny and deleting records…

As campaign season heats up, Robnett’s politics and contributions are subject to increasing scrutiny. She claimed under oath she wasn’t aware Lindquist was campaigning for Prosecutor in 2011, but she reportedly attended at least one of his fundraisers that year and a $50.00 donation was also reported from her husband (see report linked here). She reportedly was also involved in numerous conversations with Lindquist’s campaign staff at the time.

Two emails from Mary Robnett sent from her official AG email to Pierce County Prosecutor employe in 2016, appear to involve specific instructions on how to permanently delete emails so they can’t be discovered in records requests

According to emails provided to me by an anonymous source, Robnett used her government computer in the Attorney General’s office in Seattle to send complaining and political emails to her former colleague’s work email addresses. Complaints are not illegal, but on March 3, 2016, she told a deputy prosecutor in the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office to “delete your e-mail.” On March 7, she said, “I think if you delete (and then delete your delete) it will take some real effort to look if they still exist.”

What was double deleted? Will we ever know?

The intentional destruction of public records is illegal, and this is a particularly bizarre and reckless communication to send from a Washington State Attorney General email address.  It appears unlikely that the AG’s office would formally condone employees attempting to educate government workers about how to completely delete public records from future records requests.  This author finds this activity particularly troubling.

Robnett is currently under investigation by the Washington State Ethics Board for “use of public resources for political campaigns” while working at the AG’s office in Seattle. The investigation was initiated on June 18, 2018, and was filed by this author.

Criminal Defense Attorneys fund their political choice

Most of Robnett’s campaign contributions come from criminal defense attorneys, their friends and families. In addition to giving money, her donors and political allies have filed seven bar complaints against many of her former colleagues and former friends in the Prosecutor’s Office. Robnett was rumored to be involved in drafting the complaints, and the complaints were signed by a criminal defense attorney and two others who have also donated the legal maximum to her campaign, according to PDC reports.

The complaints were over 1,000 pages long including attachments, which is impressive.  Bar complaints are accusations against attorneys filed with the Washington State Bar Association, which is responsible for the licensing and discipline of attorneys.

All seven of the bar complaints have been dismissed by the bar association. Ironically, Robnett reportedly complained about the money Pierce County spent defeating these dismissed complaints and lawsuits which are now being filed by her supporters.

Robnett was also involved in an ethics complaint against a deputy prosecutor and her former boss. Her allegations were rejected by former Superior Court Judge Tom Felnagle who investigated the claims for the Ethics Commission in 2016 and found no merit in the complaints.

Voters might be a little concerned about a candidate for prosecutor who is willing to file false or frivolous charges against former co-workers, let alone other people.  This assumes voters would even know these facts, of course.

Courting drama and keeping local politics interesting

Just Kidding…Drama Thrives here

Robnett has a colorful history of involvement with political drama in the Pierce County courthouse. In 2007, former deputy prosecutor Barbara Corey sued Pierce County, alleging that former Prosecutor Gerry Horne defamed her, violated her civil rights, and unlawfully fired her. Robnett reportedly was involved in an internal political battle with Corey at the time and testified for Horne. Despite Robnett’s testimony, Corey won a jury verdict of $3 million. Pierce County also lost the appeal. The total bill to Pierce County taxpayers exceeded $4 million.

The position of Prosecutor is a partisan position, which requires running with a party affiliation.  There are no Republicans in this race. Robnett filed as, “prefers non-partisan party.” Pierce County political insiders have reported that she tells Democrats she’s a “Progressive” and Republicans she’s a “Conservative.”  The Incumbent Prosecutor is a Democrat, but he appears to represent himself consistently to all political audiences.  As this campaign proceeds, we can probably expect more to be uncovered about Robnett’s strange political campaign, but local politics wouldn’t be any fun if they weren’t at least a little bit weird.



Additional Background articles and documents:

SnoCo Reporter – June 10, 2018 – “Pierce County Strange Politics – Lindquist v. Robnett”

also – Direct link to SnoCo Reporter article

Copy of Ehtics Complaint – filed June 18, 2018 – Mary Robnett, AG employee

Mary Robnett – PDC Contribution Report – Tracking# 100838042 – Nissen $1k donation – January 22, 2018

Mary Robnett – PDC Contribution Report- Tracking #100812358 – Nissen $1k donation – January 27, 2018

Mary Robnett – PDC Independant Expenditure Report – Tracking #8287 – Joan Mell (III Branches Law Firm) – $625 – February 28, 2018

Mary Robnett – PDC Contribution Report – Tracking# 100838042 – Joan Mell $2k donation – January 22, 2018

Mark Lindquist – PDC Contribution Report – Tracking #2603498 – Bill Robnett donation – November 3, 2011

Seattle Times – August 8, 2018 – “Pierce County Prosecutor trails former chief deputy in primary setting stage for tough general election campaign”

Tacoma News Tribune – April 2, 2016 – “Ethics probe clears Lindquist, but new allegations arise”

Tacoma News Tribune – October 31, 2015 – “Deputy files $3.6 million claim against Lindquist, Pierce County”

Ames vs. Pierce County – Appeals Decision Div. 2, May 17, 2016

Tacoma News Tribune – June 10, 2015 – “Lindquist involvement in deputy investigation at center of phone records case”

Pierce County Settlement Document (Thurston Superior Court #17-2-04616-34 , filed October 27, 2017)  (if document is missing – you can download it here)

AG lawsuit against Pierce County Democrats (Thurston Superior Court #17-2-04616-34) filed August 14, 2017) (if document is missing – you can download it here)

AG’s press release about initial lawsuit filed against Pierce County Democrats (shortly after this, the AG stopped issuing press releases about settlements against Democrat politicians or committees)

Original PDC complaint filed against Pierce County Democrats

Washington State Attorney General’s list of campaign finance settlements

Tacoma News Tribune – Pierce County Democrats repeatedly violated campaign finance laws – Attorney General

Tacoma News Tribune – “Pierce County Democrats to pay $20k for breaking campaign finance law”