Jefferson County response to lawsuit: Former prosecutor was not libeled

Posted 6/23/22

Jefferson County has flatly rejected claims made against top officials in the  Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in a public records lawsuit filed against the county.

In a response to the …

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Jefferson County response to lawsuit: Former prosecutor was not libeled

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Jefferson County has flatly rejected claims made against top officials in the  Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in a public records lawsuit filed against the county.

In a response to the lawsuit, filed June 13 in Jefferson County Superior Court, Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Philip Hunsucker said officials did not make “unsubstantiated claims and libelous statements” about a former Jefferson County deputy prosecuting attorney.

Julian St. Marie, a former chief deputy prosecuting attorney and deputy prosecuting attorney for Jefferson County, filed a public records lawsuit June 3 in superior court to prevent the county from releasing public records from her “termination file.”

She claimed that Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney James Kennedy and Chief Deputy Chris Ashcraft shared unflattering, secret memos about her in the roughly two weeks before her employment with the county was terminated by Kennedy on May 18, 2021.

St. Marie also alleged the documents contained “numerous, unsubstantiated claims and libelous statements that would cause irreparable harm to Ms. St. Marie’s professional reputation in the county.”

In the lawsuit, St. Marie also noted: “Between April 29, 2021 and May 18, 2021, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Ashcraft authored a series of ‘memoranda,’ attacking Ms. St. Marie’s intelligence, abilities, and supposed personality type. These memoranda are filled with unsubstantiated claims and libelous statements concerning Ms. St. Marie.”

Kennedy declined to comment on the lawsuit last week.

St. Marie also declined to comment on her lawsuit.

In the county’s response to the legal complaint, Hunsucker wrote that St. Marie’s public records lawsuit was not filed in response to statements made by Kennedy and Ashcraft.

“This action is not a libel action against either Mr. Kennedy or Mr. Ashcraft,” Hunsucker noted, but was instead a lawsuit seeking to prevent the release of records under the Washington Public Records Act.

While St. Marie had claimed that release of the records would “not be in the public interest” and would damage her reputation, Hunsucker responded that neither Kennedy nor Ashcraft had libeled St. Marie.

In the county’s response to the lawsuit, Hunsucker quoted an email sent by St. Marie to Kennedy less than two weeks before she was let go.

“I realize now how totally wrong I have been,” St. Marie’s email said, according to the county’s response to the lawsuit.

“I don’t know if there is any chance for a reset but I do promise I will change. 100%,” the email continued. “I love my work and I love this office. I hope so much I can stay on.”

Hunsucker also wrote that the lawsuit over the release of public records “is no place to try a libel action against county employees.”

In her lawsuit, St. Marie said Kennedy “almost immediately” demoted her after he was elected prosecutor in 2020, despite her having tried 38 cases, many of them with felony charges, and getting numerous guilty verdicts.

St. Marie also claimed she “expressed concerns about failing systems in the office relating to discovery and trial preparation,” according to court documents, and soon after, Kennedy terminated her employment.

She also noted that performance evaluations in her personnel file noted “excellent” and “outstanding” performance.

In the county’s response, Hunsucker agreed that written performance evaluations for St. Marie had been positive, “but none covered the period immediately prior to her termination.”

The county also claimed St. Marie had constant trouble using the digital record system in Jefferson County District Court.

In the response to St. Marie’s lawsuit, Hunsucker wrote she “had continual difficulty understanding and managing” the system, “even after approximately three weeks of training.”

Hunsucker also noted that St. Marie advocated for a paper system for district court, but Kennedy and Ashcraft were against the idea, recalling that “the prosecuting attorney and the chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney refused to change an electronic system for district court that had been working to a paper system, just for [St. Marie’s] temporary assignment.”

The request for public records from St. Marie’s personnel file with the county was made by Denver Lee Shoop, and the county notified St. Marie of the request.

In her lawsuit, St. Marie noted that he had been convicted on eight counts of animal cruelty, and his appeal of his sentence was upheld June 1.

Shoop had been arrested in April 2018 for the mistreatment of bison that had been found on his property in Chimacum, and St. Marie had recounted that Shoop had said he wanted to “ruin” her and added Shoop had a loose organization of “animal rights” advocates who have “a practice of obtaining records under the Public Records Act and publishing those records online.”

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  • MargeS

    "Former Prosecutor not was libeled" Editor needed!

    Thursday, June 23 Report this

  • TomT

    The argument that "release of the records would “not be in the public interest”" is contrary to prior cases. i.e., the following applies to prosecuting attorneys, too.

    RCW 42.56.550(3) directs courts that "free and open examination of public records is in the public interest, even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others." Therefore, the term "highly offensive" must mean "something more than embarrassing." West, 183 Wn. App. at 313. "Because police officers are entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing society's laws and protecting citizens from harm, their credibility depends upon their own personal compliance with the law and with behaviors that promote public order and citizen safety." D. W. Stephens & D. L. Carter, Police Ethics, Integrity, and Off-Duty Behavior: Policy Issues of Officer Conduct, in POLICE DEVIANCE 29 (Thomas Barker & David L. Carter eds., 1994).

    Yesterday at 11:47 AM Report this