Just another reminder to those who forgot, that the race to succeed the late Norm Maleng as King County Prosecutor is a partisan race, and that Republican Dan Satterberg is not Norm Maleng.
Dan Satterberg, the acting King County prosecuting attorney, has promised to keep his office out of politics by explicitly barring his 250-lawyer staff from contributing money or endorsements to his election campaign.
But that, in his lawyerly interpretation, doesn’t prevent one of his top deputies from aggressively seeking political endorsements for Satterberg from a long list of the county’s most prominent lawyers and law firms. They include many who do work — some in the millions of dollars — for the prosecutor’s office.
Satterberg said Friday that there is nothing inconsistent between his admonition to his staff “to remain above politics” and the effort of Sally Bagshaw, chief of the prosecutor’s civil division, to ask members of numerous law firms not only to endorse the interim prosecutor but to encourage friends and lawyers in their firms to do likewise.
Nothing inconsistent. I guess that depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.
Here is what Bagshaw wrote to about 100 attorneys at the region’s top law firms, some of which get millions of dollars of business directly from the division she runs:
Judy Maleng and I are supporting Dan Satterberg for King County Prosecuting Attorney. [...] Our goal is to get the top lawyers in King County to endorse Dan early, and I would like to place 1000 lawyers’ names onto the website this week. I have two requests: may I add your name to our growing list of supporters, and will you help me garner endorsement support from others in your law firm? We’d like to get as many people from within your firm as well as your lawyer friends outside the office to add their name to our list. I appreciate your taking the lead on this.
And here is what Satterberg wrote to his staff in announcing his candidacy:
I will be proud to continue the policy that Norm established to not permit members of the office to either contribute money or a personal endorsement to my campaign. There are strong historical reasons for this prohibition; it is best for the office for employees to remain above politics.
Apparently, Bagshaw can “remain above politics” while asking attorneys who do business with her to “help me garner endorsement support from others in your law firm.” Apparently, “supporting” and “endorsing” are not the same thing.
A lawyerly interpretation indeed.
Imagine if President Bush had pledged that his administration would remain above politics in 2004, only to have Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld send out an email soliciting support from the nation’s top defense contractors. This is kinda like that.
Nobody is suggesting that Bagshaw’s email violates the law or any ethical code, or that such political solicitations are even unusual. It’s just that Bagshaw’s political efforts, and Satterberg’s lawyerly defense of them, clearly don’t meet his pledge to keep his office above politics.
And while nobody is suggesting a quid pro quo, firms that received over $7.2 million in contract work from Bagshaw and the PAO, certainly know on which side their bread is buttered. As do the junior attorneys. Don’t kid yourself that a lawyer doesn’t know what’s expected of him when his boss asks him to endorse a candidate. It’s not just endorsements that this email is intended to generate, but tens of thousands of dollars in contributions.
And this isn’t just speculation. Democratic hopeful Bill Sherman said that he has been contacted by attorneys at firms all over town, complaining about the pressure they were receiving.
“It made them uncomfortable because of business their firms do with the county,” Sherman said. “They were telling me they feel like they were put in an awkward position by an important client.”
Satterberg can’t have it both ways. He can’t claim to keep his office above politics at the same time he grants approval to a top aide to use the prestige of the office to garner endorsements and contributions. The fact is, this is a political campaign, and Satterberg and his supporters are doing what it takes to win. And regardless of Satterberg’s best intentions, we should never forget that this is also a political office.
If Satterberg is going to run on Maleng’s legacy, it is only fair that he be judged on his actions as well as his words. And while Maleng surely earned the admiration and respect with which he has been memorialized, it is also important to remember that he was a political animal himself. Maleng had unfulfilled aspirations for higher office, and as much as he tried to keep politics out of the PAO, he used his position and prominence to raise money and garner support for his fellow Republicans. No doubt Satterberg would do the same.
By all accounts, Bill Sherman and Dan Satterberg are both professionally qualified, in their own ways, to administer the prosecutor’s office. But to insist that somehow a Satterberg administration would in some way be less political, is just plain silly.