Ferguson, Eyman battle will linger for another year at least

At question is the amount of information Tim Eyman must share in a civil case.

OLYMPIA — Lawyers for Tim Eyman and Attorney General Bob Ferguson squared off in court again Friday, this time on the extent of financial and phone records Eyman must hand over as part of a civil suit accusing him of illegally profiting from political activities in 2012.

The latest round of legal sparring in Thurston County Superior Court was triggered by the state’s demand for Eyman’s tax returns, bank statements and a record of every cellphone call he’s made the past 13 years.

On Friday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon denied the state’s motion for those cellphone records but said he might reconsider at a future stage in the case. He also agreed to a request from Eyman’s lawyer to impose a protective order barring release of certain personal information from financial records that get turned over.

And the judge agreed to appoint a special master to oversee this ongoing discovery process that has been marked by extensive legal maneuvering. State attorneys made the request, saying it is needed to compel Eyman to respond to requests for documents.

The lawsuit, which is linked to the 2012 election, is set for trial in November 2018.

Eyman faces civil charges of secretly moving funds between two initiative campaigns in 2012 and receiving $308,000 in kickbacks from the firm that collected signatures for the measures.

Ferguson’s lawsuit alleges Eyman failed to report that he was shifting money donated for Initiative 1185, a tax-limiting measure, into the campaign for Initiative 517, which sought to reform the initiative and referendum process.

Under state election law, money can be moved from one political committee to another but it must be disclosed in reports to the commission. And the sources of the money that is getting shifted must be revealed, as well.

The Public Disclosure Commission investigated for three years and took the results to Ferguson in 2015. His office conducted its own probe then filed the suit in March. It alleges Eyman committed numerous violations of state campaign finance laws. He argues Eyman should pay $1.8 million in penalties plus return the $308,000 in payments from the signature-gathering firm.

Ferguson is also seeking to permanently bar Eyman from handling financial transactions of any political committee in the future. Eyman, as a result of previous transgressions, is barred under a 2002 court agreement from serving as treasurer for any political committees.

Eyman has denied wrongdoing. His attorney, Mark Lamb, of Bothell, has filed a counterclaim against Ferguson, accusing him of trying to impose an “unconstitutional prior restraint” on Eyman’s right to participate in the political process. Last month, Dixon denied the state’s attempt to get that counterclaim tossed out.

In Friday’s hearing, Lamb argued it is an “extraordinary request” to seek all phone records of any person, moreso when it is a political figure who is known to publicly disagree with the attorney general. If the state wants to know when Eyman made contact with a certain person, “they can narrow the request and ask for that,” he said.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Linda Dalton countered that the state should not be in the position of relying on the veracity of the defense for such records.

Lamb questioned why the state needed so many years of records. Dalton explained to the judge that the state is examining the possible diversion of political contributions to Eyman’s personal bank accounts dating back to 2004. These records will help provide a full picture of what occurred, she said.

Meanwhile, the state’s move for a special master stemmed from frustration with what its lawyers contend is Eyman’s lack of responsiveness to requests for documents.

“Even when the State believes the parties have reached agreement about responses to the State’s discovery, the Defendants renege,” Dalton wrote in a brief to the court. “The time is now to appoint a special master while discovery is underway and being thwarted by the Defendants.”

Lamb, in Friday’s hearing, opposed the move. He said it is premature and did not seem necessary. Afterward, he said this means that in the future, proceedings like Friday’s hearing won’t be conducted in public.

Each side will provide Dixon with names of three former or retired judges by Nov. 28. A decision could be made on that date.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield @herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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