Judge throws out Reardon recall petition

MOUNT VERNON — A Skagit County judge ruled Thursday that a recall petition targeting Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon was improperly filed and must be dismissed.

Superior Court Judge John Meyer said the petition was fatally flawed because its author had failed to allege under oath that Reardon had engaged in misconduct.

“I don’t like resolving this issue on a technicality,” Meyer said during the brief hearing.

The recall petition was filed by Anne Block, a Gold Bar attorney who also maintains a political blog. She did not appear in court for Thursday’s hearing, but participated by phone.

She made clear that the case isn’t over.

“I ruled that there was a fatal flaw in the petition. Anything further you would like to say?” the judge asked Block.

“Yes. I’m going to refile,” she said.

The recall paperwork filed in June with the Snohomish County Auditor accused Reardon of breaking state campaign laws by using his executive assistant and other public resources for political fundraising and lobbying.

Reardon’s attorneys, John Wolfe and Tyson Harper of Seattle law firm DLA Piper LLP, have noted that Block has a history of filing recall petitions against other elected officials that have been rejected by the Superior Court.

In a motion, Reardon’s attorneys argued that Block has asserted “nothing more than bald insinuations” against their client. The motion said Block also failed to demonstrate why she believes the claims in her recall petition to be true. Thursday’s hearing never addressed whether there is merit to allegations that Reardon broke campaign laws. The proceedings stopped after the judge deemed the petition legally flawed.

After the hearing, Wolfe said that the judge was correct in requiring Block, or any other recall backer, to make their allegations under oath. The law is designed to weed out “outrageous” allegations from forming the basis of a recall.

“By placing it under oath there is a consequence and that is a perjury consequence,” he said.

Snohomish County officially took no position on the recall attempt. Deputy prosecutor Gordon Sivley was at the hearing, and when asked by the judge, told him that the county was neutral on whether the recall should go forward.

“I would agree that on its face the document does not meet the statutory requirement and it is technically flawed in that regard,” Sivley said.

Reardon for months was the focus of a Washington State Patrol investigation into allegations that he had misused public resources.

In June, Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks decided there was insufficient evidence to charge Reardon with official misconduct. Banks limited the inquiry to the specific question of whether Reardon, who is married, allegedly misused any taxpayer money to carry out an affair with a county employee. Reardon’s known the woman since high school.

Banks made it clear that his decision not to pursue a criminal case was in no way intended to condone Reardon’s behavior. Banks also forwarded the patrol detectives’ final report to the state Public Disclosure Commission, which is responsible for investigating campaign-finance violations and has the authority to levy steep fines.

Block also filed a complaint with the PDC.

The PDC’s civil investigation is likely to continue through late this year or longer.

Public records examined by The Herald show that in the months leading up to the 2011 election, Reardon frequently used his government cellphone to communicate with people involved in his re-election effort. They included key members of his campaign team and political donors.

Reardon’s schedules contain more than 100 hours of “in office staff meetings,” many of which were coordinated to match the schedule of his political fundraiser, Colby Underwood. Reardon has said that Underwood, in addition to his campaign work, was discussing an alternative-energy venture at the county’s former Cathcart landfill.

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

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