Former county planning director pleads not guilty to assault charge

SEATTLE — Snohomish County’s planning director pleaded not guilty Monday to two misdemeanor charges stemming from a drunken incident June 24 on a Redmond-area golf course.

The most serious charge, fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation, alleges Craig Ladiser pressed his penis against the leg of a woman who works as a lobbyist for the building industry. Ladiser also is charged with indecent exposure.

The acts allegedly occurred while Ladiser, 59, was a guest at a golf tournament sponsored by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

Ladiser appeared for a brief arraignment Monday in King County Superior Court with his attorney, Ralph Hurvitz of Seattle. Ladiser was ordered to have no contact with the woman who made the allegations. He later was taken from the courtroom to the jail for booking. He was told he would be released afterward.

Ladiser declined comment as he waited in the courtroom before the hearing.

The incident occurred while Ladiser was the county’s top planning official. He was fired from his $150,000 a year job last summer, and has since moved to Eastern Washington.

The criminal investigation began in October, after the woman contacted the King County Sheriff’s Office. She told authorities, according to court papers, that she “felt she was pressured into not reporting this to the police right away” and was told the matter would be “investigated internally.”

The woman first contacted County Executive Aaron Reardon’s office about the allegations in July. She had already corresponded with Ladiser, who told her he would resign from his job. Instead, he took emergency leave and sought counseling for alcohol abuse.

The county hired a labor attorney from Seattle to investigate.

“The initial allegations were criminal in nature,” said Christopher Schwarzen, Reardon’s spokesman, in an e-mail Monday. “That’s why we ordered the outside investigation. Based on the investigation’s outcome, the office took swift and appropriate action and terminated Mr. Ladiser immediately.”

Ladiser was on paid leave for about a month while the labor attorney investigated, records show. Ladiser was fired Aug. 20 after the attorney’s report found he deliberately exposed himself to the woman, but “could not conclude” whether there was physical contact.

Ladiser’s official last day on the county payroll was Sept. 3. Human resources e-mails obtained through public-records laws list the reason he’s been separated from his county job as “retired.”

That word, in this case, only refers to Ladiser’s eligibility for benefits, not the circumstances of his departure, Schwarzen said.

“He was fired,” he said. “Whether a person quits on their own or is terminated, they are entitled to retirement.”

Ladiser’s troubles arose at a time when the planning department was suffering from huge drops in revenue and widespread layoffs. The county continues to interview candidates to fill Ladiser’s old job.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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