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Judge rules in favor of Roach; Richardson forced to change voter pamphlet statement
By Brian Beckley
A Thurston County Superior Court Judge ruled Friday that Sumner councilmember and 31st District Senate candidate Matt Richardson's voter pamphlet statement is untrue and must be changed.
Judge Thomas McPhee wasted little time in making his ruling in favor of Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) on all three counts she brought forward.
"The false statements fit the definition of libel and slander that are in the statue," McPhee said, adding that in the context of a voter's pamphlet the false statements work to deprive Roach of public confidence.
The case stems from a complaint brought forth by Roach challenging as false three statements made in the statement Richardson submitted to the Secretary of State's office for publication.
According to the Revised Code of Washington (29A.32.090), a candidate's statement "shall not contain false or misleading statements about the candidate's opponent."
The statement references sanctions the Republican Caucus leveled against Roach earlier this year. Roach was thrown out of the Republican Caucus in January because of "hostile behavior" toward staff.
In his statement, Richardson wrote “Unfortunately, the permanent sanctions against Pam Roach prevent her from contact with Senate staff, and more critically, from meeting with other Republicans.”
Roach challenged Richardson on three points: First, she states the sanctions against her are not permanent, but subject to alteration by Roach and the senior leadership; second, she states there is no sanction preventing her from working with Senate staff; and third, Roach states there is no sanction that prevents her with meeting with other Republicans.
McPhee ruled in Roach's favor on all three points.
Because the sanctions against Roach can be altered, McPhee ruled they were not "permanent." McPhee said it appropriate to mention the sanctions, "but to characterize as permanent is incorrect; it's false."
As far as contact with senate staff, McPhee also ruled that is false. Though the sanctions state Roach may not deal with members of the Senate Republican Caucus, she is not barred from talking to all staff. She is also not barred from talking to Republicans, simply from having a voice in the Caucus or entering the caucus room.
In an affidavit delivered to the court today, Richardson said he never intended to personally defame Roach, but argued that his statements were true in the context of the sanctions. Richardson argued that because the leadership has made no indication of removing the sanctions, they are effectively permanent. He also said that the statements about republicans and staffing are true in context of the sanctions.
McPhee dismissed Richardson;s arguments and said that a person seeking elected office has a "higher duty" than an ordinary citizen to make sure statements in the voter pamphlet are accurate.
Because Richardson "so obviously violated" these points, it amounted to "reckless disregard" and therefore meets the libel or slander standard put forth in the statute.
"The voter's pamphlet statement should be edited to withdraw or change the three statements I have identified," McPhee said.
Richardson immediately produced a replacement paragraph for the pamphlet, but McPhee made some minor changes to that before approving it. McPhee struck the word "continuing" before sanctions and added the word "republican" before "Senate caucus staff."
After the decision, Richardson said his original statement grew out of having to obey the pamphlet's 200-word limit.
"I think my statement is kind of a victim of having to use limited words," he said.
Richardson stressed that only two words had to be changed in his statement.
Roach called the decision a "pure victory" and emphasized that the judge used the phrase "reckless disregard" in describing Richardson's statement.
"There is a high standard if you're going to be an elected individual and he's demonstrated he doesn't do that," she said.