OLYMPIA — Democratic state Sen. Nick Harper of Everett will be nearly halfway through his term before a judge decides if he should ever have been allowed in office in the first place.
That’s because a Seattle political consultant accused of breaking campaign laws to help Harper unseat former Sen. Jean Berkey last August won’t go on trial until 2012.
On Wednesday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy scheduled the trial to run from Feb. 27 through March 8 next year. She set the dates following a meeting with lawyers for the firm, Moxie Media, and the state Office of the Attorney General, which brought the case.
It will take time to build a complete case, said Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for Attorney General Rob McKenna.
“It is a complex case. There will be a lot of witnesses involved and it will take time for discovery for our investigation,” she said.
Berkey, also a Democrat, finished third in the August primary behind Harper and conservative Republican Rod Rieger. Harper beat Rieger in November.
Moxie Media owner Lisa MacLean directed independent campaigns on behalf of both challengers though it’s only her efforts to aid the candidacy of Rieger that is under scrutiny. They were financed by unions and progressive groups who favored liberal Harper over the moderate Berkey.
MacLean, who works exclusively with liberal Democratic candidates and progressive causes, sent out mailers urging their support of Rieger. She is accused of deliberately concealing the source of money used to pay for them — an allegation she later admitted to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Berkey contends the firm’s actions deceived voters and affected the outcome and wants the judge to order a new election.
Chances for that appear slimmer now.
“The farther out in time, the less likely you’ll see the attorney general press for a new election,” attorney Phil Talmadge said. “The greater likelihood is you’ll see a financial settlement reached.”
Berkey could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Harper said the case has never been about him and he’ll let the judicial process run its course.
“My energy,” he said, “is 100 percent focused on the significant issues facing our state.”
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.