Judge to consider sanctions regarding Oso slide lawsuit

OSO — A King County judge is scheduled Wednesday morning to consider whether sanctions are appropriate after attorneys defending Washington admitted their hired experts have been systematically deleting emails connected to the Oso mudslide case.

The state Attorney General’s Office on Friday filed court papers acknowledging it was wrong for experts to delete records in which they discussed the results of drilling and other efforts being made to determine the 2014 disaster’s cause.

The state’s lawyers insisted the deleting was an honest mistake, however, and not a willful effort to hide evidence in Washington’s largest-ever wrongful death case.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are not convinced. They want sanctions.

Lawyers for the state repeatedly promised to honor subpoenas and produce the records, knowing they didn’t exist because they’d been deleted across 17 months, they wrote in court papers. They also allege the state and its experts have been tailoring their mudslide investigation to match the planned defense.

“The state’s experts have engaged in manipulating the ‘evidence’ to advance the state’s defense,” attorney Karen Willie of Seattle said in court papers filed Tuesday. “The state’s attorneys could not have been unaware of the manipulation. This type of reprehensible behavior should not be condoned.”

In response to the sanctions motion, the attorney general’s office has hired a computer forensic expert to attempt recovery of the experts’ deleted emails. They’ve also offered to pay attorneys fees and other costs that the plaintiffs may incur connected to withheld or deleted emails.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have asked Judge Roger Rogoff for sanctions. The harshest would be deciding the case in favor of the plaintiffs without a trial. In the alternative, they’ve suggested the state be precluded from offering testimony from its experts. If that happened, jurors would not be told about the results of roughly $3 million worth of scientific studies, including information from the first-ever investigative drilling on the hill.

Preliminary reports from the state’s experts have regularly been filed with the court. Among other things, they’ve challenged the popular theory that logging over the years made the hillside dangerously prone to collapse. They also contend there was no way to reasonably predict within a human lifetime the timing of a slide like the one that broke loose in 2014, killing 43 people.

Studies since the disaster have found signs of giant slides repeatedly racing across the North Fork Stillaguamish River Valley since the Ice Age.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Drivers heading north on Interstate 5 will take a detour from Highway 104 to 220th Street SW and back to I-5 this weekend during nightly lane closures for Sound Transit light rail work. (Sound Transit)
Light rail work closing I-5 North lanes nightly this weekend

Crews need to close northbound lanes between 220th Street SW and Highway 104. Drivers have two detour options.

Pro skateboarding competition coming to Everett in August

Street League Skateboarding’s championship tour will be at Angel of the Winds arena for two days.

Cars drive through the intersection of Highway 9 and South Lake Stevens Road on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022 in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 9 to close this weekend in south Lake Stevens

Detours take drivers around the closure between 20th Street SE and 32nd Street SE from Friday night to Monday morning.

Empty shelves in the baby formula section at a grocery store in Lynnwood, Washington. (Jacqueline Allison / The Herald)
Amid baby formula shortage, local moms scrambling to feed babies

Shelves are bare and prices are up. But there are resources for Snohomish County mothers in need.

$1 million bail for Everett ampm shooting suspect

The suspect, 36, is accused of shooting an acquaintance Monday, dumping the gun in a dumpster and fleeing from police.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Snohomish County seeks input on spending American Rescue Plan dollars

In-person events across the county will help guide more than $80 million in federal recovery money.

Mandy Jeffcott and Aaron King explore the area beneath a highway underpass while conducting a PIT count Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County homelessness rose to 10-year high, count shows

Data released Monday confirmed what advocates suspected: The local homeless population grew amid the pandemic.

Sam Bowles records the run off the water from a chalk drawing with friend and co-artist, Rhyanna Mercer, Tuesday afternoon in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jackson High’s global TikTok star is chalk full of ideas

Sam Bowles, 18, uses vibrant videos and social media fame to raise awareness of autism.

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Bothell biotech CEO resigns after domestic-violence allegation

Clay Siegall co-founded Seagen, which develops therapies for cancer patients. He’s accused of attacking his wife.

Most Read