Barbara Bowden is as experienced a defense lawyer as you can find in Pierce County.
For over 30 years, her Lakewood law firm has represented thousands of defendants – most of them charged with driving under the influence.
But the KING 5 Investigators found that the name of Bowden’s firm often surfaced in state investigations related to clients who enrolled in questionable drug treatment programs.
Documents and witness interviews reveal that Bowden had close ties with five state-licensed clinics where counselors are accused of misconduct.
One of those clinics was Doorway to Recovery in Lakewood, where Crystal Zimbelman enrolled in 2010 after her heroin addiction led to a DUI.
Her family filed a complaint with state regulators, after she went through an out-of-state treatment program, claiming that her drug counselor and lawyer concealed a positive urine test from the court.
“He said, ‘After talking with your attorney we’re gonna keep this one in-house,’” Zimbelman recalled her counselor Scott Bateman saying during an appointment in November of 2010.
She was represented by an attorney from the Law Offices of Barbara Bowden. When reached by phone, the attorney refuted Zimbelman’s story and said, “We didn’t hush up anything about the UA.”
Zimbelman says, “At the time I was so vulnerable. I believe I was taken advantage of.”
She says she’s not sure why her lawyer and counselor failed to report her UA.
But money was allegedly the motive at Doorway to Recovery and four other treatment clinics to which Bowden referred clients, according to complaints filed with state regulators. Counselors at those clinics are accused of soliciting cash bribes from clients, according to interviews and state records. In exchange for the money, the counselors falsely reported to judges that the clients were in compliance with their court-ordered treatment.
Last year, state investigators caught three clients skipping out on treatment at A Change Counseling Services in Tacoma. The state fined the treatment clinic the maximum $1,000 for falsely reporting attendance to the court.
According to records, at least one of those patients was a client of Bowden’s.
At least three A Change counselors have also faced accusations, according to Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) records, that they accepted bribes from clients to fake attendance records.
“If I find a place doing that, I move on,” Barbara Bowden said in a brief phone interview with KING 5. “It’s unfortunate that was happening,” Bowden said.
She denied that she played a part in any misconduct.
Bowden has referred clients to all five clinics exposed in KING 5’s Sobriety for Sale series: A Change Counseling (Tacoma and Renton clinics), Doorway to Recovery, Abracadabra and A Brighter Tomorrow.
For a brief time, A Brighter Tomorrow was located next door to Bowden’s Lakewood office. A Brighter Tomorrow closed down weeks after allegations about misconduct there were aired in a KING 5 Investigators story.
Bowden has a close relationship with Kathy Dastrup, a certified chemical dependency counselor who was targeted in a forgery investigation at Doorway to Recovery and accused in a state investigation last year of taking bribes from clients at A Brighter Tomorrow counseling clinic.
In a phone interview, Dastrup denied those allegations. She lost her job at a Tacoma treatment clinic when her name appeared in KING 5’s stories earlier this year. She said she was recently employed by Bowden for some babysitting jobs.
“She’s a very good attorney,” Dastrup said, describing Bowden as a personal and professional friend. “She loaded up my treatment center with clients. She believed in me,” Dastrup said.
Dastrup remains under investigation by the Washington Department of Health and the DSHS Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery for her conduct at A Change Counseling and A Brighter Tomorrow.
Attorney Bowden says her close ties to treatment centers help her serve her addicted clients. “I’m the first to get them evaluated and get them into treatment if they need it.”
The owner of three clinics that have appeared in KING 5’s stories (Doorway to Recovery, Abracadabra, and A Change Counseling in Renton) says he cut off his relationship with Bowden for undisclosed “personal reasons.”
Bowden referred clients to John Dorman’s clinics, which have also been investigated by state regulators. Those cases resulted in insufficient evidence to prove misconduct.
“I think we run a legal business and we do a good job,” Dorman told KING 5 in May.
Kathy Dastrup was one of the counselors who worked for Dorman at the time Bowden was sending referrals there. Dastrup was accused of allowing a counselor trainee at Abracadabra counseling clinic to sign Dastrup’s name to treatment documents. The forgery case ended abruptly when Dorman’s lawyers succeeded in having a state investigator removed from the case.
Bowden and Dastrup also teamed up for a client named Michael Robertson. He hired Bowden to defend him after he smashed into a car in Tacoma in 2013 while driving under the influence. Bowden sent him to A Change Counseling to enroll in treatment that would be provided by Dastrup.
Less than three months later, Robertson killed a woman when he drove his car the wrong direction on the 520 floating bridge. He was under the influence at the time of the accident.
“Morgan got let down. Morgan got shafted here,” an angry Jerry Esterly told KING 5 in May. Robertson killed Esterly’s girlfriend Morgan Fick Williams as she was driving into work on an April morning.
Esterly now wonders if Robertson received any treatment at all.
Another complaint to the state names Barbara Bowden directly. In November 2010, a letter from “an alcoholic man who actually needs to be in recovery” arrived in the mailboxes of Pierce County judges and court administrators.
“Doorway to Recovery is actually a big scam. My attorney Barbra (sic) Bowden from Lakewood told me to go there and actually told me they would not make me attend if I paid them off,” the letter said. “I did do as she told me and I regret it now.”
The letter was anonymous, so state regulators closed the case without an investigation.
John Dorman, the clinic owner, said a disgruntled employee of his admitted to writing the letter in the days before the employee died of cancer.
Crystal Zimbelman walked into Doorway to Recovery to receive treatment weeks after the letter was postmarked.
She’s disturbed by what she says is a system that failed and nearly killed her. After her positive UA went unreported, she continued using heroin and ended up in the hospital near death.
In addition to blaming her counselor and lawyer, she’s upset that state regulators didn’t take action on her complaint.
DSHS originally sanctioned Doorway to Recovery and Crystal’s counselor. DSHS later repealed a $250 fine for reasons that are unclear. Counselor Scott Bateman was not punished, although he later lost his license after he got a client he was treating pregnant.
“I was lucky enough to come out on the other side,” Crystal says.
The lawyer from Bowden’s law firm also had a beef with the state. He was upset that the name of Bowden’s firm appeared in the official complaint.
DSHS granted his request to remove Bowden’s name from the record.