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Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

Porn found on Reardon aide's computer, reports show

Assistant Kevin Hulten offered to resign his post, but on his terms

EVERETT -- An aide to Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, already on leave as the focus of a criminal investigation, is facing new troubles after dozens of sexually explicit photographs, including homemade porn, were found on a county-owned laptop computer he'd been using in 2011, The Herald has learned.
Kevin Hulten, 34, initially said he'd resign after the images were found in March, but he wanted to attach conditions on his departure, including some sort of monetary settlement.
After his supervisor, Deputy Executive Gary Haakenson, said there would be no deal, Hulten insisted he was being set up, for political reasons. He then asked the county council to investigate whether it was retaliation for making a "whistleblower" complaint about county prosecutors.
Nearly $35,000 later, two independent investigations by a Seattle attorney concluded that Hulten's claims about retaliation are unfounded, and that his separate "whistleblower" complaint is equally baseless.
Reports on both investigations -- one exploring the porn stash, the other detailing Hulten's claims that county prosecutors are corrupt -- were obtained by The Herald on Thursday under state public records laws.
The images on the county computer reportedly include nude photos of Hulten and a woman. They were found as part of a King County Sheriff's Office investigation into a series of public records requests Hulten has admitted using the alias "Edmond Thomas." He sought records about numerous county employees, including Reardon political rivals who cooperated with last year's Washington State Patrol investigation of the executive.
Hulten has been on paid administrative leave since the criminal investigation began two months ago. Haakenson on Thursday declined any comment on the porn found on the computer. He said any investigation would be a personnel matter.
The report that Karen Sutherland prepared for the county council, however, leaves no doubt that Haakenson has been attempting to terminate Hulten's employment for several weeks.
The lawyer detailed how Haakenson confronted Hulten after the images were found in March and gave him the option of quietly resigning, which would create no disciplinary paper trail. Otherwise, Hulten would be fired and the reasons detailed in his personnel records.
Hulten instead suggested that the images wound up on the computer either by accident, or were placed there by somebody seeking to embarrass him, the report shows.
That triggered an investigation by the county's Human Resources director, Bridget Clawson, working with computer specialists in the county's information systems department, the lawyer wrote.
Haakenson told the investigator that every accidental way the images may have gotten onto Hulten's computer were ruled out. Clawson also reported that there was no way it happened accidentally, Sutherland wrote.
"Haakenson stated they had found another 116 images that were more of the same type of things, plus Hulten had apparently done background checks on Councilmembers on that computer that were not part of Clawson's investigation," Sutherland wrote. "Haakenson stated the report concluded that the images that were on the laptop that had been the subject of the investigation could only have got there if Hulten did it himself."
Prior to that, on March 19, Hulten and Haakenson exchanged a series of text messages about the images found on the laptop.
Hulten told Haakenson that he was considering resignation, but he also had been working toward bringing lawsuits against the county and various officials for what he considered improper activities, including the way his "Edmond Thomas" records requests were handled.
Hulten wrote that he would consider entering into "a separation agreement through which I'd forfeit all future claims against the county, etc in exchange for some modest considerations that we could probably hammer out ourselves."
But "if you fire me and i seek damages -- even though its not your fault, you'll be named and we'll both be doing this for way, way longer than we should. Just like you shouldn't have to be doing this stuff, I think you probably know that there is a bigger explanation behind my actions. I didn't do it for fun. And I always always always was subordinate to the guy that hired me.
"I want to be loyal, but i dont want to be ruined," Hulten wrote. "i want to move on and close the chapter. I want to do it without lawyers and without the media. I want to throw away all my notes and records and start new."
Hulten went on to describe what he considered to be the county's legal exposure, particularly related to the "whistleblower" claim he'd brought.
Haakenson seemed unimpressed.
"Here's the bottom line for me. You violated county guidelines with the images on your laptop," Haakenson wrote. "All of your threats of lawsuits etc mean very little to me in this instance. They are a completely separate issue of yours. I'm not interested in bargaining. I gave you an opportunity to quit gracefully and I won't divulge the reason. Or I will fire you for this violation and if you choose to sue, the reason for your firing will be in your personnel file."
Those reasons, Haakenson wrote, would be "having pornography on your county laptop. Pure and simple. Not retaliation. A clear violation of county policy."
Hulten denied putting porn on county equipment, "much less a laptop thats been out of my control for two years."
He asked to see the evidence, and demanded a name-clearing hearing, which is a final step some county employees can take when facing termination.
Hulten met with Clawson on March 21 to review the images, which are not described in the report.
"Clawson stated Hulten was 'mortified' and that he was very distraught and emotional and embarrassed and talked a lot about his family and how frightened he was and how embarrassed he was that she saw the pictures and she said she was sorry," Sutherland wrote. Hulten "was concerned about it being strewn across the press. Clawson stated she felt sorry for him being in this state; he was so embarrassed he could hardly look at her."
Hulten's "whistleblower" complaint was made before the pornographic images were found. While it was the County Council's responsibility to respond to Hulten's retaliation complaint regarding problems he faces over the images, under the county's policy, it's the deputy executive's job to investigate "whistleblower" complaints.
Sutherland, of the Seattle law firm Ogden Murphy Wallace, was hired to investigate at a rate of $250 an hour. The County Council was billed $19,125 and the executive's office $15,825 to have the lawyer examine Hulten's "whistleblower" claims.
In the "whistleblower" complaint, Hulten had alleged that officials in the county prosecutor's office had engaged in a variety of misconduct involving Reardon's investigation last year by the Washington State Patrol. He targeted most of his claims at Jason Cummings, the county's chief civil deputy prosecutor, and Bob Lenz, the chief administrative deputy.
Sutherland wrote that her investigation of the "whistleblower" complaint found that Cummings and Lenz were "within the scope of their authority and consistent with carrying out the course of action" county officials had developed after a county social worker reported that she'd engaged in a years-long affair with Reardon and accompanied him on county business trips.
The investigation "did not reveal any improper governmental actions" by anyone in the prosecutor's office, Sutherland wrote. That included a review of Hulten's claim that county officials had been leaking information to reporters about the patrol investigation.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said he knew his office had behaved ethically in the difficult situation surrounding Reardon's legal troubles.
"I couldn't be less surprised," he said of the findings on Thursday.
Hulten's retaliation claim suggested prosecutors had again done wrong. He told Sutherland that it was inappropriate for Roe to suggest that an investigation was necessary to determine if laws were broken after The Herald detailed how Hulten and Reardon's executive assistant, Jon Rudicil, were linked to harassing records requests, spoof email accounts and attack websites targeting Reardon adversaries.
Roe was among those targeted by Hulten's records requests. So were Haakenson, Cummings and some County Council members and their staff.
The council requested the King County Sheriff's Office investigation.
The council also took away Reardon's control of the county's computer system and his office's responsibility for overseeing public records. The next day, Reardon announced he would resign at the end of May, but he has yet to make that offical.
The lawyer's report on Hulten's retaliation claims notes that Reardon's staffer knows his days at the county are numbered once a new executive takes office. As an exempt, at-will employee, he can be fired at any time.
There are few mentions of Reardon in either report. Reardon reportedly called Haakenson the evening the deputy executive confronted the aide about the sexually explicit images found on the laptop. The substance of that call is not detailed. Hulten also reportedly emailed Reardon after a meeting with Clawson, the human resources director. The aide asked if Reardon had some work for him to do, and suggested that he had convinced Clawson there was an acceptable explanation for how the pornography wound up on the computer.
In fact, Clawson told the investigator, she hadn't cleared Hulten, but was checking whether Hulten's explanation for how the images got on the computer were "plausible or logical."
After conferring with an information system manager, Clawson concluded "any reasonable person would think Hulten" was responsible.
Scott North: 425-339-3431, north@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » County executiveLocal

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