The candidate who bowed out of a write-in race against the Pierce County prosecutor in 2014 has 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 10-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.
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 a.m. e-mail 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 a.m. e-mail.
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. 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 more than 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.
Interestingly, Nissen and Ames are represented by the same attorney who has also given the legal maximum amount to Robnett and even contributed beyond the maximum with an “independent expenditure.” If Robnett’s long shot 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 that she wasn’t aware that Lindquist was campaigning for prosecutor in 2011, but she attended at least one of his fundraisers that year and a $50 donation was reported from her husband. She reportedly was also involved in numerous conversations with Lindquist’s campaign staff.
According to e-mails 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 e-mails to her former colleague’s work e-mail 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.”
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 e-mail 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 more than 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 often 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.
COURTING DRAMA AND KEEPING LOCAL POLITICS INTERESTING
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, and 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.
Glen Morgan is currently executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, and was grassroots director and property rights director at the Freedom Foundation from 2011 until January 2015. He enjoys creating videos documenting big government’s abuses of citizens – particularly on property rights issues. He is a frequent writer and speaker on property rights, the environmental movement, big government, and the importance of citizen activism.