SPOKANE - An appellate court allowed the Grant County prosecutor to give information about an investigation on a former Quincy police officer to defense attorneys.
The Washington State Court of Appeals Division III upheld a Kittitas County judge's decision to end a preliminary injunction preventing prosecutor Angus Lee from giving documents related to Aaron Doyle's previous employment in Sierra County, Calif.
Doyle was formerly a sheriff's deputy in Sierra County. After two lawsuits against his employer and vice-versa, he reached a settlement agreement with the county, according to the opinion. As part of the settlement, several parts of the court records were sealed, including an internal investigation.
The files related to the investigation were on a thumb drive and Doyle claimed they were stolen from his home. The records were with his ex-girlfriend's attorney. Doyle was involved in lawsuits with the woman and her parents at the time, according to court records. Police recovered the memory device from the attorney and reviewed the Sierra County investigation documents.
Lee said Moses Lake Police Chief Dean Mitchell shared the information with the prosecutor.
"He believed there was information there that needed to be disclosed," Lee said. "He was absolutely correct."
Both Lee and officers felt the information needed to be disclosed to defense attorneys when Doyle was an officer involved with a case, according to the opinion.
Doyle's attorney Garth Dano said Lee's decision to release the material was in retaliation for Doyle's participation as an investigating officer in a collision involving Grant County District Court Judge Richard Fitterer.
Doyle testified in an alleged Washington State Bar Association complaint against Lee, stemming from the prosecutor's activities in the review of possible charges against Fitterer, Dano stated.
"Angus Lee told Doyle that the judge, Fitterer, 'has been very good to us' (the prosecutor's office and law enforcement). Clearly, this was implying that they (the prosecutor's office and law enforcement) needed to protect Judge Fitterer," Dano wrote in a statement.
Dano claimed other Quincy police officers have previous disciplinary actions Lee didn't decide to release to defense attorneys.
The prosecutor's office relies on police agencies to "conduct investigations into allegations of officer misconduct and to advise this office of the results of those investigations," according to office guidelines.
"When law enforcement notifies this office of a potential impeachment disclosure issue, the matter is addressed according to the policy and the law without exception," Lee stated. "The analysis completed in this case was done in accordance with standard procedure, the Constitution and the law."
When Lee notified Doyle about his determination to provide the information from the Sierra County investigation to defense attorneys, Doyle filed a lawsuit in Kittitas County Superior Court, according to court records.
The court initially granted a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order preventing Lee from distributing the information, according to the opinion. After several motions, the court found the Sierra County outcome was "adverse to Officer Doyle and that such information would be of public concern," and dismissed Doyle's case and terminated the preliminary injunction.
Dano argued three points to the appeals court. First, he contended Lee should have been removed from the proceedings because he had a conflict of interest, according to the opinion. The appellate court disagreed.
"Here, Mr. Lee has never represented Officer Doyle. A prosecutor may not be disqualified from an action by his opponent's lawsuit filing or bar complaint," according to the opinion. "Thus, Mr. Lee was properly allowed to personally defend his office."
Dano argued the trial court should have allowed a continuance to gather more information, according to the opinion. The appeals court judges pointed out the motion to continue was never filed.
"Officer Doyle stated that he would file a continuance motion, but the record does not show this was accomplished," according to the opinion. "Generally, a properly noted motion is filed with the opposing party and the court," according to the opinion. "Because Officer Doyle did not properly request a continuance and failed to properly note his motion, the trial court had no opportunity to exercise its discretion."
Dano challenged the dismissal of the injunction, according to the opinion. The court stated the person seeking an injunction has to show a clear legal right, a well-grounded fear of the invasion of the right and that the acts will result in a substantial injury to him.
The appeals court stated the conditions changed between April 2010 with the initial restraining order was granted and when the injunction was dissolved in July 2010.
"The trial court reviewed the Sierra County documents that were not available when the (temporary restraining order) was issued; it decided a sustained finding of dishonesty existed resulting in adverse consequences to Officer Doyle," according to the opinion. "A prosecutor is required to disclose exculpatory evidence, including an officer's dishonesty."
The appellate court stated Lee complied with the mandate by giving the documents to the affected defense attorneys.
Lee stated the case shows prosecutors and police officers are committed to making sure cases are investigated and prosecuted fairly and honestly, and adhering to constitutional restrictions and ethical rules.
"My office and the men and women of Grant County's law enforcement community serve the dual role of both protecting the people from criminals, while also upholding the Constitution and the defendant's right to a fair trial," Lee stated. "I commend Moses Lake Police Chief Dean Mitchell for fulfilling that dual role and bringing the information about the former officer to my attention so that the appropriate actions could be taken. It should be noted that the actions of this single officer are in no way reflective of the conduct of the honest and hard working officers serving in Grant County today."
Dano plans to appeal the case, stating the appeals court ignored an opinion by an expert in legal ethics, he stated. He expects the state supreme court will reverse the decision.
"I haven't had a chance to thoroughly digest the opinion. Obviously, we think the court of appeals is wrong," he stated. "Doyle intends to appeal this decision. The prosecutor's office, specifically, Mr. Lee, Mr. (Lee) Pence and Mr. (Doug) Mitchell, we believe, have engaged in conduct, which sullies the legal profession and casts a bad light on lawyers. Mr. Doyle believes the prosecutor's office, currently lacks a wise or ethical leader, who has extensive experience and instead engages in vindictive retaliatory conduct. Mr. Doyle believes the prosecutor's responsibility to the public is to act honorably in all respects, (such as) considered, thoughtful, pragmatic and untainted decision making."