Judge Orders Washington AG’s Office, DSHS To Pay More For Evidence Withholding

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office and the Department of Social and Health Services have been ordered to pay more than $122,000 in attorney’s fees for withholding evidence in a continuing lawsuit.

King County Superior Court Judge Michael Ryan imposed the new costs in a ruling Friday, The Seattle Times reported. The amount is on top of an earlier $200,000 sanction. The judge also said the state may face additional sanctions.

In March, Ryan imposed the $200,000 sanction for what he called the state’s “egregious” and “cavalier” failure to turn over nearly 11,000 pages of records to attorneys suing over the alleged severe neglect of a developmentally disabled woman, Emily Tobin, at a family home in Kent.

Paying the attorney’s fees to the plaintiff’s law firm of Hagens Berman was included in the March ruling but the amount hadn’t been determined.

Hagens Berman attorneys asked for $214,000 for what they argued was “extraordinary” work in uncovering the discovery abuses. The state had argued for the lower amount of $122,500.

Ryan wrote in rejecting of the higher amount that the facts surrounding the state’s misconduct in not turning over records were fairly straightforward.

“No advanced class in sanctions was necessary to understand the egregious nature of DSHS’s and the AGO’s conduct,” Ryan wrote.

The state has denied intentionally withholding records.

“We respect the judge’s decision,” Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, told the newspaper. “The team is hard at work to determine what happened and address those issues.”

Ryan has also appointed Seattle attorney Russell Aoki — at $500 per hour billed to the state — to investigate the discovery violations and determine whether the state has hidden more documents. Depending on what Aoki finds, “additional sanctions may be warranted for additional discovery violations,” Ryan said in his Friday order.

The costly legal blunders come as the attorney general launches his run for governor. The three-term Democrat has led the attorney general’s office since 2013.

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