As much as for a long list of accomplishments in his first term, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson deserves re-election based on his response to failures by attorneys in his office.
Ferguson, a Democrat, is challenged this year not by a Republican but by Libertarian candidate Joshua Trumbull, an Arlington lawyer and Lake Stevens resident who is making his first run for political office.
Trumbull, a Snohomish County native educated in-state at Everett Community College, the University of Washington, Seattle University and with law degree from Gonzaga, has spent much of his career in civil litigation, pursuing abuses in the real estate industry stemming from the recession. Trumbull said as attorney general he would beef up the office to investigate the predatory tactics that led to mortgage foreclosures and the loss of homes.
Trumbull has a potential foothold to point to problems in Ferguson’s office with the revelation that at least one of two state attorneys encouraged scientific and geological expert witnesses to trash emails that should have been turned over as evidence in a civil trial brought by families who lost loved ones in the 2014 Oso landslide.
A dollar amount is to be determined, but a judge this week ruled that the Attorney General’s Office will be required to pay a fine that covers additional costs borne by the plaintiff’s attorneys caused by the loss or delay in obtaining the evidence as well as a punitive fine. The judge characterized the failure as more than “an innocent, bumbling mistake,” but less than “a conspiratorial cabal.”
Trumbull told The Herald Editorial Board his office is located in a building where survivors of the Oso landslide came to provide depositions for the trial. The revelations, Trumbull said, have raised doubts in the state and its officials among the families involved. “They trusted that the rules would be followed,” he said.
But, as Ferguson has with a similar failure by another attorney that occurred before he took office, he has accepted responsibility and taken steps to address the errors. One of the attorney’s involved is no longer with the office; his contract expired at the end of September and was not renewed. Ferguson also said his office has already started work to develop new internal training programs.
The office made a similar effort when it was revealed that a deputy working with the Department of Corrections in late 2012, told the department that it was not necessary for staff to make “hand recalcuations” of sentences while a software problem was addressed that had allowed for the unintended early release of as many as 3,200 prisoners. That attorney later stepped down. And the matter was reviewed and expectations for communication up the chain of command were re-emphasized, Ferguson said.
Beyond fighting those spotfires, Ferguson has delivered on his first campaign’s promises to run an independent and nonpartisan office, keeping attorneys who worked under the previous AG; pursuing consumer protection lawsuits against companies such as Comcast and Johnson &Johnson; and pushing for legislation that expanded the penalties for violations of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
Ferguson also has taken action against the federal Department of Energy over worker safety at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and pursued a campaign finance lawsuit against opponents of a 2013 initiative regarding labeling of genetically modified foods.
Consumer protection has been emphasized by Ferguson, who increased the number of attorneys working those cases to 20 from five.
He has a good success record in proposing legislation and working with lawmakers for passage. Notable examples include the renewal of the Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act and regulation and licensing of electronic cigarettes and vaping products.
Ferguson already has proposed for the coming legislative session a ban on military-style rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines. Trumbull opposes such legislation as a violation of the U.S. and state constitutions. Ferguson admits passage will be an uphill climb, but says the legislation, still to be drafted, will protect the public’s safety while respecting the Second Amendment.
Ferguson, running an office of more than 500 attorneys and 600 other employees, has represented the interests of the state and its citizens and merits a second term.