By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — Just hours before Aaron Reardon announced last month that he plans to resign as Snohomish County executive, one of his aides began demanding an investigation of the county’s chief civil attorney, alleging the lawyer failed to represent Reardon’s best interests.
Kevin Hulten, a Reardon legislative analyst who lives near Granite Falls, wrote County Council chairwoman Stephanie Wright on Feb. 21 that he needed “whistle blower” protection to shield himself from fallout after he brought a series of records requests using a false identity, “Edmond Thomas.”
Hulten attached a 14-page report that he claims proves “significant legal and ethical lapses” in the conduct of Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Jason Cummings while Reardon was investigated last year for possible misuse of public money while pursuing an extramarital affair with a county employee.
“I have also spoke (sic) with County and State employment law agents regarding what I perceived to be aggressive retaliatory and harassing actions and extra judicial statements aimed at intimidating and frustrating efforts to complete this report,” Hulten wrote. “I trust you will monitor this concern in the coming days.”
The materials Hulten sent Wright were released to The Daily Herald on Wednesday under a public records request.
The documents show Hulten emailed his complaint to Wright at 2:34 a.m. on Feb. 21. Less than six hours later, Reardon used his annual State of the County address to tell a group of business leaders that he’s had enough of being the focus of scandals and investigations, and he plans to resign at the end of May.
Reardon has yet to send a letter to the County Council making his resignation formal. He also continued Wednesday to refuse to answer questions about Hulten’s actions, including whether he agrees with the aide’s assertion that the deputy prosecutor needs to be investigated.
“I haven’t read the complaint as county policy designates the Deputy Executive as the party responsible for handling complaints of this nature,” Reardon said in an email.
He didn’t respond when the newspaper pointed out that Hulten had copied Reardon in on the emailed complaint he sent to Wright.
Cummings’ boss, Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, said his office will cooperate fully with any official inquiry.
“I haven’t looked at the complaint. Seeing as myself or one of my employees is the focus of it, I think that is appropriate,” he said.
Along with Reardon executive assistant Jon Rudicil, Hulten is now on paid leave from his county job. At Wright’s request, the King County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an independent investigation to determine if the pair broke any laws in a campaign that appears to have targeted county employees who cooperated with last year’s criminal investigation of Reardon by the Washington State Patrol.
In his complaint, Hulten asserts that a new investigation is necessary because he believes Cummings, who provides the county’s elected leaders with advice in civil legal matters, failed to properly represent Reardon last year.
Among the evidence he provides in support are records showing calls between Cummings’ county desk phone and numbers Hulten claims are for patrol detectives and reporters at The Herald and The Seattle Times. A spreadsheet Hulten claims to have created about calls with journalists includes numbers that actually go to health care providers, a restaurant and county public defenders.
The patrol’s investigation and its results were reviewed by Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks, who decided against filing criminal charges against Reardon in connection with the executive’s documented out-of-town trips with a former girlfriend.
In his complaint, Hulten alleges that Cummings played an improper role in that case.
“Cummings continued to advise the client he was helping to investigate,” he wrote. “Cummings provided legal advice to the client and the client’s office on matters directly related to the ongoing criminal investigation. As an employee of the Executive’s office, I can confirm that Cummings personally advised me on multiple occasions with regard to matters concerning release of information to investigators and media.”
Hulten was outraged last year when the county released his county phone bills in response to The Herald’s public records requests. The bills demonstrated how Hulten commingled his job for Reardon with digging for dirt during work days to use against Reardon’s 2011 re-election opponent.
The records released Wednesday show that the County Council determined Hulten had failed to follow county policy in making his complaint to Wright. Instead, he should have sent it first to his boss, Deputy Executive Gary Haakenson.
Haakenson on Wednesday would not discuss Hulten’s complaint or to even confirm that it is the same matter he now acknowledges that he is weighing. Under county policy he has until Monday to get back to the complainant to explain what steps, if any, he’ll be taking.
“It’s going through the proper channels, and I’m not going to comment until the investigation’s over with,” he said.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.