The Marysville Strawberry Festival was represented at the Seafair Torchlight Parade in Seattle on July 28. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

The Marysville Strawberry Festival was represented at the Seafair Torchlight Parade in Seattle on July 28. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Judge: Agreement that put Strawberry Fest at risk is illegal

The secret arrangement barred some volunteers from helping with the Marysville event.

MARYSVILLE — An agreement that jeopardized the annual Strawberry Festival has been thrown out by a Snohomish County judge.

It was drawn up illegally, Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas decided July 30. It went beyond the authority of the Maryfest Board of Directors members who signed the document in February 2017.

The agreement was made in secret and barred longtime volunteers from helping with the festival. It also demanded that $10,000 be paid from Maryfest to another organization.

Maryfest is the nonprofit that sponsors the festival. Its leadership has largely been replaced since last year.

Lawyers with the consumer protection division in the state Attorney General’s Office brought a lawsuit in April. The lawsuit was supported by the current Maryfest board.

People can’t be allowed to take advantage of charities for their own gain, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

“The previous agreement was outrageous, self-serving and illegal,” he said.

The 2017 arrangement was between the nonprofit and Mark Jensen, of Woodinville, who served as vice president of the board for a time. It was made to secure his resignation and had been kept out of the public eye until it was filed with court documents this spring.

The terms included lifetime bans for six former board members. Among them were volunteers who had previously secured major sponsors for the festival, including the Tulalip Tribes and big-name retailers. Jensen wanted the bans because he claimed those board members had made unwarranted attacks on his reputation.

The document promised Jensen up to $175,000 if Maryfest failed to meet his demands.

Within weeks of lawyers filing the suit, Lucas decided the bans on those volunteers would be lifted pending the outcome of the court case. The order came in time for the 87th Marysville Strawberry Festival in June. Organizers estimate that roughly 100,000 people attended.

Then, the judge’s July 30 ruling voided the entire six-page agreement.

The volunteer ban wasn’t the only issue.

The document required Maryfest to pay $10,000 to the Holiday Treasure Chest Charity Foundation, another nonprofit affiliated with Jensen. The judgment requires Treasure Chest to return that sum to Maryfest.

Once the $10,000 has been repaid, the case will be dismissed, the judge said.

The team that organizes the Strawberry Festival appreciated the support from the community at this year’s event, said attorney Gary Baker, who represented Maryfest.

“Planning is under way for the upcoming 2019 festival,” he said in an email. “Festival leadership is happy the legal matters are behind them and thanks those people who helped make that happen.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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