Olympia - January 19, 2001 - The state Attorney General's Office filed suit today against Spokane County Assessor Sadie Charlene Cooney for illegally using county facilities and her staff to campaign for re-election in 1998.
The suit, filed in Spokane County Superior Court, alleges that Cooney violated state laws barring the use of public facilities and staff to support or oppose a candidate during an election. The suit also claims that Cooney solicited money and time from her staff to help her bid for re-election. Washington law also prohibits such activities by an elected official.
In documents filed with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) during a Dec. 12 public hearing, Cooney admitted to five violations of using county facilities and staff and asking them for contributions during the 1998 election. A sixth violation was dismissed. Cooney denied charges that she retaliated against three former employees when they did not support her during the 1998 election. The state's lawsuit includes claims based on the alleged retaliation.
As a result of the admissions by Cooney and other evidence, the PDC on Dec. 12 referred the entire case to the Attorney General's Office for further action. The PDC determined that any penalty it could impose would be insufficient, given the facts before it.
The Attorney General's Office, by statute, can seek up to $10,000 in civil penalties for each violation of the law. The suit asks a judge to triple any money penalties assessed, as punitive damages authorized by state law. The AG's Office also seeks an injunction stopping Cooney from further illegal use of public facilities or retaliation against employees, and an order directing her to reimburse the state for legal fees and costs associated with the lawsuit.