By Scott North
ARLINGTON — Thom Satterlee has for years claimed to be a commissioner in "Freedom County," a place the courts have repeatedly ruled does not exist.
That hasn’t stopped him from appointing a sheriff, a coroner and an auditor, and signing reams of official-looking correspondence demanding that Snohomish County clear out of his neck of the woods.
Last Friday, the Darrington man found out there is a legal limit to his activities.
Satterlee, who from time to time has filed papers claiming his right to argue legal cases, was convicted of unauthorized practice of law, a gross misdemeanor, after a jury trial in the Cascade Division of Snohomish County District Court in Arlington.
Judge Jay Wisman sentenced Satterlee to 30 days in jail and imposed a $300 fine. He stayed the punishment pending appeal.
Satterlee did not immediately return phone calls. Since 1995, he has led a group that claims a majority of people in about 1,000 square miles of northern Snohomish County have seceded and formed their own government.
Freedom County backers have repeatedly failed to gain legal support for that contention, losing a series of lawsuits in state and federal courts. All but one of those cases have been brought by Satterlee and others without the assistance of lawyers.
Deputy prosecutor Matt Baldock said Satterlee’s involvement in Freedom County was an issue during the trial, both in screening potential jurors and in some of Satterlee’s claims for authority for his actions. His involvement with Freedom County was not a factor in the decision to file charges, the prosecutor said.
"I can honestly say that his reputation was not taken into account," Baldock said.
The case stemmed from Satterlee’s intercession on his son-in-law’s behalf in an October civil case involving a traffic accident.
A Seattle law firm had legal papers served on Satterlee’s son-in-law. Satterlee responded with legal pleadings, representing himself as the "communication agent/counsel of record" and directing that all future legal papers be sent to Satterlee, Baldock said.
The Seattle lawyers contacted the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office after they realized Satterlee was not an attorney nor a member of the Washington State Bar Association.
Baldock said state law is clear on who may practice law. The courts have defined legal practice as giving legal advice or counsel, preparing legal documents and representing or negotiating on somebody else’s behalf in legal forums.
Satterlee is the second Freedom County leader to be prosecuted in recent months for false representation.
Robert Bender, who goes by the name Fnu Lnu, in February was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $600 fine after being convicted in Tukwila of impersonating an officer and obstruction. Bender was charged after he claimed, during a run-in with Tukwila police, to be the sheriff of Freedom County, a position he was appointed to by Satterlee in October 2000.
Bender, whose assumed name is a police acronym for "first name unknown, last name unknown," has since said he resigned as Freedom County sheriff.
Satterlee had sought to represent Bender at his Tukwila trial, filing documents claiming he was the "acting interim prosecutor" for Freedom County in the case. That was rejected by the court, which noted Satterlee wasn’t licensed to practice law in Washington, according to court records.
You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.