OLYMPIA — Indicted state Auditor Troy Kelley won’t face impeachment as House leaders have decided they don’t want the proceeding used as an excuse to delay his upcoming criminal trial.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, made their decision following several conversations and informed Lt. Gov. Brad Owen in a Feb. 19 letter.
“While we believe his case would warrant impeachment proceedings, we are concerned that such a process could be used as a basis to delay his federal trial,” they wrote. “Because we wish to avoid any excuse for delaying this trial, we are placing on hold for the time being any impeachment proceedings.”
Kelley, a first-term Democrat from Tacoma, declined to comment Tuesday on not facing impeachment.
Kelley is accused of keeping millions of dollars that should have been refunded to customers of his old real-estate services business. He also faces charges of money laundering and tax evasion arising from his business.
He’s denied wrongdoing and is scheduled to go on trial March 14.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Deputy State Auditor Jan Jutte wrote House leaders of her concerns that the agency might be paying a political price for the legal cloud swirling around Kelley. She said the agency’s ability to operate with independence is threatened by budget cuts and legislative mandates.
Lawmakers pared $12.6 million from the agency’s Performance Audits of Government account last year to help balance the 2015-17 budget.
The supplemental budget released Monday by House Democrats would slash another $10 million from the account. Gov. Jay Inslee sought the same reduction in the spending plan he released in December, and Senate Republicans may include it in their budget proposal due out this week.
“I am concerned that the institution of the State Auditor’s Office is the victim of both the complex pressures on the state budget and the legal issues facing Auditor Kelley,” Jutte wrote.
“Auditor Kelley asked me to represent the agency, in hopes of protecting it from any consequence of the controversy surrounding him,” she wrote. “I want to prevent any diminishment of the State Auditor’s Office due to his legal troubles that — by all accounts — do not involve the important work our staff does.”
Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, chairman of the Senate Accountability and Reform Committee, said the cuts reflect the loss of public confidence in the auditor’s office.
“Now you are seeing the fruits of the lack of trust, the lack of champions standing up and saying we think the state auditor is doing well,” said Miloscia, who is a candidate in this year’s election for state auditor. “It is the inevitable conclusion of Troy Kelley staying in office and allowing his office to become a laughing stock.”
Kelley has been battling federal criminal charges for nearly a year. In May he went on unpaid leave with no intention of returning until his legal fight was done. But he changed his mind and returned to work in early December after four state lawmakers said they would try to impeach him for dereliction of duty.
Under the state constitution, the process begins in the House of Representatives. If the House passes a resolution of impeachment, the Senate would investigate and conduct an impeachment trial. A two-thirds vote is required to remove someone from office.
Impeaching Kelley had bipartisan support entering the 60-day session. But it became increasingly unlikely as lawmakers closed in on adjournment March 10. The letter erases any remaining speculation.
Kristiansen said he and Chopp discussed the matter over a period of days. They also spoke with Senate leaders and attorneys who work with the legislative caucuses. There was general concern any action by lawmakers could cause lawyers involved in the case to seek a delay, he said.
Their conversations did not involve federal prosecutors or Kelley’s legal representatives, he said.
“While we believe he should be impeached … we did not want to go down that road,” Kristiansen told reporters Tuesday. “We still feel Troy Kelley should leave office. We feel very strongly about that.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.