Lawsuit filed against County and Prosecutor

A lawsuit filed October 9, 2015 in Skagit County Superior Court by Sheryl Albritton against San Juan County and Prosecutor Randall Gaylord concerns actions by elected officials and public employees allegedly conspiring to conceal improper government conduct from the public.

The plaintiff is claiming the county and the prosecutor violated the state's Public Records Act. The case concerns documents relating to a code enforcement case involving wetlands on Albritton's neighbors property. Gaylord ordered the removal of certain documents from the enforcement case file.

In her Public Records Request, Albritton asked for  "copies of all documents within enforcement file PCINQ-15-0003 related to ERTS (Environmental Reports Tracking System)#654194". The county did not provide copies of the ERTS documents and did not tell her anything had been withheld or give reasons for withholding the ERTS documents.

County Code Enforcement Officer Chris Laws had refused to remove the documents. At Gaylord's direction, Cathy Korth from the prosecutor's office removed the case file from his office. It was later returned to him  with pages about the Improper Government Action (IGA) investigation in a separate file labeled: "Chris Laws personal information IGA - 1/21/2015 Report." 

The history of the case is complicated. Albritton and her husband had investigated purchasing a neighboring property in the Portland Fair neighborhood. After finding out what was required due to the presence of wetlands, they decided not to buy.

Albritton called the county when the new owners were proceeding without following the steps that had been spelled out to her when she had asked the county what was required. 

Annie Matsumoto-Grah had made the original decision that a wetland delineation was required. That was over-ruled by CDP Director Sam Gibboney after she received an email from county Manager Mike Thomas. He informed Gibboney that there were no wetlands on the property - a determination that he and his wife, Jennifer, made as they walked through the neighborhood.

No wetland report was written and no information was given to the county about who J.T. was or what her qualifications were.  

As a result of Thomas' actions, Laws filed an Improper Government Action (IGA) complaint.

He also asked Gresham, a  Department of Ecology wetland specialist,  to look at the property. Gresham found evidence of three wetlands on the property and on an adjoining property owned by the Portland Fair Home Owners Association. 

Gresham said he'd send a written report. Later, Laws was told Gresham's supervisor Eric Stockdale had ordered him not to submit a report due to "political reasons". After Laws wrote  asking to verify the reason for Ecology's refusal to send a report, Stockdale talked to Laws on the phone. As a result of that conversation the report was written and sent to Laws. 

In the course of the permitting process.  Matsumoto-Grah and Laws were both ordered by Gibboney to rewrite reports in order to leave out information about the wetlands determination. 

The investigation into the IGA was complicated by the fact that the county Risk Manager Pamela Morais lives at Portland Fair and is on the HOA board. Council member Bob Jarman also lives in the neighborhood, was in contact with the Hughes and with Thomas about the wetlands.   

In his investigation of the IGA, Gaylord determined that "The reconnaissance of the wetland was performed in an informal manner that was not consistent with County Code or the procedures set forth by the CDPD." He decided: "No further action is needed to comply with the law."

Read more about Gaylord's investigation in previous story, Special treatment for council member's neighbors.

The plantiff is requesting:

A declaration that defendants violated the Public Records Act.

An order for San Juan County and Prosecutor Gaylord to show cause why Ms. Albritton has been denied an opportunity to inspect or copy the public records she requested.

An order requiring San Juan County and Prosecutor Gaylord to allow Ms. Albritton to immediately copy and inspect the requested public records. An award of penalties of $100 per day per record.

An award of all costs, including reasonable attorney fees.

Such other relief as the Court deems just and reasonable.

The attorneys in the case are Nick Power of Friday Harbor and Michele Earl-Hubbard of the Allied Law Group in Seattle. in 2013 she won a $538K settlement for a PRA case against the City of Shoreline. 

3 comments

  • B. Sadie Bailey
    B. Sadie Bailey Thursday, 29 October 2015 21:55 Comment Link

    Annie Matsumoto Grah gone? She was one of the honest ones... How sad that we lose another planner with the integrity to stand up to corruption. Things are even more corrupt than I already thought! Time for Ecology to do a full-scale investigation of all the violations of wetlands going, say, 35 years back....

    Report
  • Ray McGregor
    Ray McGregor Friday, 23 October 2015 01:03 Comment Link

    Mr. Gaylord and his minions have been playing fast and loose with the rules of Law for many years. Hopefully his chickens have finally come home to roost....

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  • Daryl Dixon
    Daryl Dixon Thursday, 22 October 2015 09:03 Comment Link

    It should be noted that three of the employees (ones not accused of wrong doing) are now no longer with the county.
    Chris Laws and Annie Matsumoto from CDP. Kathy Korth at the PA's office.
    One needn't go far to see government corruption.

    Report

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