Lee v. Jasman

Decision Date19 August 2014
Docket NumberNo. 31519–3–III.,31519–3–III.
Citation332 P.3d 1106
CourtWashington Court of Appeals
PartiesD. Angus LEE, Grant County Prosecuting Attorney, by and through the OFFICE OF the GRANT COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY, Respondent, v. Jerry JASMAN, a single person, Appellant.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

George M. Ahrend, Ahrend Albrecht PLLC, Ephrata, WA, for Appellant.

D. Angus Lee, Grant County Prosecuting Attorney, Ephrata, WA, Ione Susan George, Kitsap County Prosecutors Office, Port Orchard, WA, Pamela Beth Loginsky, Washington Assoc of Prosecuting Atty, Olympia, WA, for Respondent.

FEARING, J.

¶ 1 We address today an action in quo warranto, Latin for “by what warrant?” Jerry Jasman and Grant County Coroner Craig Morrison appeal from a trial court order removing Jasman from the position of Grant County deputy coroner and enjoining him from signing death certificates. The specific question we address is whether one who holds the position of deputy county coroner and performs the task of signing death certificates is a “public officer” subject to disqualification under RCW 9.92.120 because of a conviction of a crime? We answer in the affirmative and sustain the trial court's orders. We also affirm the trial court's denial of Jerry Jasman's and Grant County Coroner Craig Morrison's demand that Grant County reimburse them attorney fees incurred in the defense of this action.

¶ 2 After oral argument, Jerry Jasman and Craig Morrison filed, with this reviewing court, a motion to vacate the decision below and dismiss the appeal on the ground of judicial estoppel. Before the trial court ruled on this first action, Jasman and Morrison filed a second action in Grant County Superior Court seeking recovery of attorney fees. During the course of that lawsuit, Grant County argued that this first action was not a quo warranto action. According to Jasman and Morrison, Grant County Prosecutor Angus Lee, who initiated this quo warranto action, should be precluded from any relief because of an inconsistent statement in the second suit. Jasman and Morrison ask this court to vacate the trial court's injunction and dismiss this appeal. Jasman and Morrison seek recovery of reasonable attorney fees and costs. In turn, Angus Lee characterizes the motion to vacate as frivolous and asks this court to grant him reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred in responding to the motion to vacate. We deny the motion, because judicial estoppel could apply only in the second lawsuit, and this suit constitutes the first suit. We deny Angus Lee recovery of reasonable attorney fees.

FACTS

¶ 3 The factual background begins with criminal conduct of Jerry Jasman during his short term as Grant County Coroner, which conduct the Grant County Prosecuting Attorney Angus Lee claims disqualifies Jasman from public office.

¶ 4 In 2009, Jerry Jasman served as the elected Grant County Coroner. On June 26, 2009, Jasman drove the Grant County Coroner's truck towards his home, with Deputy Coroner Lynnette Henson as a passenger. Jasman intended to return home from work and allow Henson use of the truck since she remained on call. The two argued, after which Henson asked Jasman to stop the truck and allow her to exit. Jasman refused. Henson pled again for Jasman to allow her to leave the truck, but Jasman yelled profanity. He slammed the truck brakes. With the truck nearly stopped, Henson opened her truck door to exit, but Jasman abruptly accelerated and turned the truck. Henson was unable to escape the hegemony of her boss.

¶ 5 Lynette Henson continued to beg for egress from the county truck as Jerry Jasman drove in the direction of Henson's home. Henson employed the truck's two-way radio to solicit help. Jasman summarily disabled the radio. Eventually, Jasman reached Henson's home, where she safely exited the truck. Before her exodus, Henson asked Jasman to let her person go at least thirty times.

¶ 6 As a result of his conduct on June 26, 2009, the State of Washington charged Jerry Jasman with unlawful imprisonment in violation of RCW 9A.40.040, a class C felony. Because of a possible conflict of interest, based on Jasman being an elected Grant County official, Grant County Prosecuting Attorney D. Angus Lee garnered assistance from the State of Washington Attorney General's Office to prosecute the charge. On September 30, 2009, Jasman pled guilty to the amended charge of disorderly conduct in violation of RCW 9A.84.030(1)(a), a misdemeanor. The court sentenced Jasman to one day in jail and imposed a fine of $500 and costs of $510. The court also continued a restraining order in favor of Lynette Henson and ordered Jasman to attend counseling. In the judgment and sentence, Jerry Jasman acknowledged “the forfeiture of his right to hold public office, as provided in RCW 9.92.120.” Clerk's Papers (CP) at 74. Jasman then resigned from the office of Grant County Coroner.

¶ 7 On November 2, 2010, Grant County voters elected Craig Morrison as County Coroner. Morrison assumed the office on November 22, 2010. On the same day, Coroner Morrison hired Jerry Jasman as his deputy and chief investigator, and Jasman executed an “Oath of Office” as Grant County Chief Deputy Coroner. CP at 161. According to Morrison, Jasman's experience and training rendered Jasman the most qualified person to work in the Grant County Coroner's Office. While using the title of chief investigator, Jasman completed and signed multiple death certificates on behalf of the Grant County Coroner. Jasman remains today the only employee of the Grant County Coroner other than the coroner himself.

¶ 8 Jerry Jasman did not file his oath of office as Grant County Chief Deputy Coroner with the Grant County Auditor, Nor did Jasman post an official bond. The Grant County Coroner's Office letterhead listed Jasman as “Chief Investigator.” CP at 92.

¶ 9 In February 2004, Grant County published a job description for chief deputy coroner, which still applied when Jerry Jasman accepted that position in December 2010. The job description reads, in relevant part:

Position Purpose

Investigate and document deaths within the County to determine causes of death and to preserve accurate records of such deaths.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The position is one of only two in the Coroner's office, serving on a rotating 24–hour on call basis with the County Coroner, in addition to regular office hours. While the focus of the job is on investigating causes of deaths and preserving evidence, the job also requires its incumbent to respond with consideration when confronted with the emotional circumstances of survivors of decedents.

....

Examples of Essential Duties and Accountabilities

The following examples of duties and accountabilities illustrate the general range of tasks assigned to the position but are not intended to define the limits of required duties. Other essential duties may be assigned consistent with the general scope of the position.

1. Death Investigations: Upon notice of death, the position determines whether the Coroner's office has jurisdiction. If within jurisdiction, the incumbent travels to death scenes and coordinates the investigation on-site. This includes determining probable causes, manner and times of death; photographing the scene and the decedent and includes obtaining medical records, demographic information and law enforcement records and reports as well as securing personal records, prescription medications, personal property and other evidence. This incumbent determines if autopsies are required, prepares such authorizations and assists at autopsies.

CP at 79.

¶ 10 Upon learning of Jerry Jasman's appointment as chief deputy coroner, Grant County Prosecuting Attorney D. Angus Lee questioned Jerry Jasman's authority to sign death certificates. In December 2010 and because of the questioning by Angus Lee, Grant County Coroner Craig Morrison created the position of investigator in the coroner's office. The job description for this new position reads:

JOB SUMMARY:

This position's responsibilities are to assist with the investigation of deaths occurring in Grant County.

DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS:

The position is one of only two in the Coroner's office, working Weekends and Nights when required by the Coroner. While the focus of the job is on investigating deaths, the job also requires its incumbent to respond with respect and consideration when working with the deceased, family members and law enforcement officials.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:

The following examples of duties and accountabilities illustrate the general range of tasks assigned to the position but are not intended to define the limits of required duties. Other essential duties may be assigned consistent with the general scope of the position. Employee must comply with all County and office policies, procedures, WACs, and/or other regulatory bodies.

• Responds to reports of deaths; accident, homicide, natural, suicide, and undetermined to conduct on-scene investigations to assist with determining manner, cause and time of death. Investigations may include performing thorough physical examinations of bodies and scenes, conducting interviews with witnesses, family, friends, and medical and law enforcement personnel.

• Responsible for taking video or photographs at the scene;

• Assists with documenting, collecting and recovering property, which is a direct part of the body. This includes the body in its intact and reasonably undisturbed state.

• Releasing the personal property to the next-of-kin or law enforcement agency, conducting the criminal investigation after the investigation.

• Confiscates all prescription medications and drugs for analysis by a toxicologist and/or disposal.

....

• Composes statements of investigations for the Coroner and other reports to support establishment of the cause and manner of death.

....

• Perform other duties as assigned by the Coroner.

CP at 82. Although the job description for investigator is lengthier...

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