“I can't even begin to tell you how appalled I am by this crime,” Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris said.
People have sacrificed their lives and freedom for the right to vote, the judge said.
“These rights are sacred,” Farris said.
That was just the beginning of the chastisement Julie Klein faced Tuesday as she was sentenced to six months in jail for faking signatures and lying that she had gathered them from people who wanted Referendum 74 on the ballot.
She also admitted to forging signatures for a second potential ballot measure, Initiative 1185, which required a two-thirds majority for any tax increases approved by both houses of the Legislature.
Klein, 54, was paid up to 75 cents for every signature she gathered.
She came to attention of law enforcement after state elections officials noticed something sketchy about signatures on her petitions. The handwriting seemed similar on many of the petitions for Referendum 74. The petitions were separated and of the 1,001 signatures she submitted, 834 did not match the handwriting on file of registered voters.
More faked signatures were found on petitions for Initiative 1185.
Klein's petitions were not counted and ultimately didn't affect the measures getting on the ballot. The Secretary of State's Office turned the petitions over to the Washington State Patrol for a criminal investigation.
Farris was told Tuesday that Klein had lost her job in 2008 during the recession and was desperate to “put food on the table.” The defendant's sister said Klein didn't intend to harm anyone, but was struggling to get by.
Public defender Kelly Canary urged the judge to allow Klein to do community service instead of serving any jail time.
Canary said she had found only two similar cases of petition fraud. One person wasn't sentenced to any time behind bars and the other was allowed to do community service.
“It is serious ... but six months is not appropriate. This isn't a violent crime,” Canary said.
The defense attorney was concerned that her client could lose her job. About six weeks ago, after she pleaded guilty, Klein found a job — a requirement to qualify for work release.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Dana Little opposed Klein being allowed to do community service in lieu of jail time or electronic home monitoring.
“Since this case shows us that the defendant is willing to forge hundreds of voters' signatures for some cash it is conceivable that the documentation she would be entrusted in providing the court would be suspect as well,” Little wrote.
The deputy prosecutor also pointed out that the defendant has claimed that she forged the signatures to make money because she is too disabled to work.
“If she cannot work, then it's difficult to understand how she will be able to comply with a community service sentence,” Little wrote.
The judge agreed to let Klein serve her time on work release, which will allow her to keep her job. When she's not working, she'll be locked up.
Farris wanted to know more about who hired Klein to gather signatures. She was told that Klein dealt with one man, but he was more of a middle man. She said she never met the people who put up the money for the signature-gathers.
“It's a pretty hairy, nasty business,” Klein said. “They just look for warm bodies.”
The judge said she didn't doubt that Klein had financial troubles but she wasn't going to overlook the “lack of moral integrity” that went along with the crimes.
“Without signatures these issues don't go on the ballot,” Farris said. “You can change history. Did you even believe in what these petitions stood for, or were you selling your soul for a couple of pennies?”
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dianahefley.
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