Pierce County prosecutor fighting for his privacy, reputation

KING 5's Elisa Hahn reports.

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist is fighting for his privacy and his reputation.

Several county employees filed complaints and a lawsuit against him; one of those fights played out Thursday at the Washington State Supreme Court.

As the parties arrived to argue their case at the State Supreme Court Thursday morning, one of the main players was absent. The person whose privacy is at stake: Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

The justices need to decide whether Lindquist's private cell phone records are subject to public disclosure laws.

"If you are an elected prosecutor, if you are an elected legislator, local or state, you are on call 24-7," Phil Talmadge, the attorney representing Pierce County argued before the court. "You are involved in all sorts of activities 24-7. Where do you draw the line on what is work related or government related?"

In 2011, KING 5 interviewed Pierce County Sheriff's Deputy Glenda Nissen, who accused the prosecutor of retaliation after she backed his political opponent, and then sued Pierce County for withholding his private cell phone records.

She maintains he used his personal phone to conduct business involving her case.

Now other county employees from his own office are coming forward with similar complaints.

"The atmosphere is total repression and fear. Individuals are in a very unhealthy manner, afraid to speak the truth," said deputy prosecutor Steve Merrival.

Merrival filed a whistleblower complaint, accusing Lindquist of misconduct, retaliation and creating a hostile workplace.

He claims Lindquist confronted him in a parking garage after Merrival's wife posted comments questioning the actions of the prosecutor's office on Facebook.

Merrival admits he's worried about his job.

"I'm more concerned maybe 5, 10, 15 years from now after I retire, that I look in the mirror and say should I have spoken up? Would things be better?" Merrival said.

Lindquist declined an interview. The county issued a statement: "We're confident an investigation will confirm the office acted properly, and will clear all those who were wrongfully accused."

Now both cases have to play themselves out. And the state supreme court's decision could have implications far beyond the troubled county offices.


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