Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney, who made the news last month when he said he wouldn’t enforce Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the COVID-19 outbreak, will have to pay for his own legal defense against a recall petition filed against him.
In an April 28 letter to Fortney, Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell denied the Fortney’s request to have the county pay for his legal defense related to the recall petition, filed shortly after Fortney posted an open letter to “Snohomish County Residents and Business Owners” that criticized the governor’s efforts that reiterated his position “to not carry out any enforcement for the current a stay-at-home order.”
Under the Washington state law governing recall elections, before the recall process can go forward, there must be a show of cause in superior court that the recall effort is not based on “false and frivolous charges.” Fortney requested that the county cover his legal expenses, pointing to a law that indemnifies public officials if they are acting in their official capacity.
However, Cornell told Fortney that the April 21 “public statements made by you on a personal Facebook page, which serve as the basis of the charge, do not warrant a defense at public expense.”
In fact, Cornell said, Fortney’s Facebook post encouraged people “to disobey data-driven, science-based lawful orders handed down expressly to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to protect our health and well-being during this pandemic emergency.
“Put simply, your words were akin to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” Cornell said.
Our online news partner The Seattle Times reported that Monroe resident Lori Shavlik filed the petition with the city auditor seeking to recall Fortney, a 23-year veteran sheriff’s patrol sergeant who took office in January after defeating incumbent Ty Trenary. The petition alleged that Fortney’s refusal to enforce the governor’s emergency orders and his decision to label the orders unconstitutional constituted malfeasance and are grounds for his recall.
If a judicial review of the charge determines that the petition is false and frivolous, Cornell said that “upon request, I will revisit my determination that any costs associated with defending the petition should be covered at taxpayer expense.” The matter would also require independent review and approval by the Snohomish County Council.