Rossi doesn’t hide anger as deposition interrupts campaign

SEATTLE — With unconcealed annoyance, Republican Dino Rossi began the final week of his campaign for governor in his lawyer’s office Wednesday, answering questions for a lawsuit brought by supporters of the Democratic incumbent.

A transcript of the deposition was replete with tense exchanges between Rossi and the attorneys who were questioning him. Rossi and his lawyer, Mike Patterson, called the questioning a “sham” and a “charade.”

A King County Superior Court judge said Monday that the public interest demanded Rossi answer questions before Election Day about the lawsuit, which alleges illegal campaign spending by his biggest backer, the Building Industry Association of Washington. Two former state Supreme Court justices, Faith Ireland and Robert Utter, both of whom support Gov. Chris Gregoire’s re-election bid, brought the case.

The justices’ lawyers, Mike Withey and Knoll Lowney, tried to home in on whether Rossi helped coordinate a political fundraising drive by the BIAW last year. If so, they argue, the BIAW should be constrained by state limits on direct campaign contributions — $3,200 per election cycle — rather than the more than $6 million it has spent so far to back Rossi with independent expenditures.

Their claim centers on calls Rossi made to officers of a BIAW affiliate group, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, in spring 2007, when that group was balking at contributing to the BIAW’s war chest.

Rossi said that when he made the calls, he couldn’t have been coordinating campaign fundraising because he was still months away from deciding whether to run again after his 133-vote loss to Gregoire four years ago in the closest gubernatorial election in U.S. history.

Rossi told Withey that at the time of the calls he was “75 percent sure” he wouldn’t run “because of this sort of thing, us sitting here today.”

“You know, the fact that you folks served subpoenas at my home pounding at 9:30 at night on the door, serving my teenage daughter with a subpoena, this is the kind of nonsense that you have to go through for someone to run for public office,” Rossi said.

Withey and Lowney argue that Rossi became a candidate when he consented to the BIAW raising money on his behalf, but Rossi says he never gave such consent. The lawyers point out that in June 2007, Rossi was the guest speaker at a BIAW board of directors meeting where the organization’s president announced how much money had been raised for the governor’s race — and that new polling showed Gregoire leading Rossi 47 percent to 43 percent.

Withey threatened to call the judge over what he called “obstructive” tactics by Rossi’s lawyer, who repeatedly objected to the questions. Patterson accused Withey of trying to stare him down and said he was simply defending his client’s rights.

“This has been the most obstructive deposition I’ve ever participated in,” Withey said, noting his 36 years as a lawyer. “It’s made a mockery of the four hours that we’ve arranged for. We’re going to move the court to impose sanctions on Mr. Patterson.”

“I probably participated in more depositions than you ever thought of participating in and I’ve certainly tried more cases than you ever have, OK?” Patterson responded. “I’m not here to see lawyers that are being paid by Christine Gregoire use this (as a) political campaign and to ask questions that are geared to the press.”

Withey and Lowney are Democratic lawyers, but nothing in the record suggests they’re being paid by Gregoire, who is not a party to the lawsuit.

After the deposition, Withey and Lowney said it gave them a fuller understanding of Rossi’s connection to the BIAW’s fundraising efforts. Rossi, however, called it a joke.

“Unfortunately, it was a joke that took a chunk out of my campaign,” he said.

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