The Office of Legislative Auditor James Nobles has concluded his preliminary investigation into the public complaints made about Attorney General Lori Swanson's office, finding that there was no basis exists for a full investigation of the AG's Office by his office. However, in an unusual move, Nobles calls upon the Legislature to review whether the legal services provided by the AG’s Office require that all of the attorneys in the office serve "at the pleasure" of the AG.
During the course of its preliminary investigation, the Office of the Legislative Auditor spoke with seven individuals. (Given the limited scope of its investigation, he OLA did not speak with AG Lori Swanson or former AG Mike Hatch.) The individuals testified that they felt pressured to act inappropriately, but that no inappropriate, unethical or illegal conduct had resulted.
"[T]he individuals we interviewed linked the pressure they felt to the fact that attorneys in the Attorney General’s Office work 'at the pleasure' of the Attorney General; in other words, they can be dismissed or demoted 'at will' rather than 'for cause.' In addition, they said it was 'well-known' that termination, demotion, or reassignment often fell on an employee who lost favor with the Attorney General," the OLA wrote. (The OLA also notes that many of the complaints concentrated on Hatch rather than Swanson.)
The OLA goes on to state:
"While the individuals we interviewed provided sworn statements based on first-hand knowledge, their testimony did not establish a basis for further investigation by OLA. OLA has authority to investigate alleged noncompliance with legal requirements related to the use of public funds. ... OLA’s preliminary assessment confirmed what some members of the Legislative Audit Commission concluded on March 28—the allegations presented by Representative [Steve] Simon are not the kinds of issues the Legislative Auditor addresses through an investigation."
The second part of the report, calling for the Legislature to review the "at will" status of attorneys in the AG's office, will undoubtedly be of interest to the attorneys in the office seeking employment protections. The OLA notes that state office are mixed on how they treat full-time employees of constitutional officers, with some offering civil-service protections and some not. The OLA recommends the Legislature review the classification of employees at the AG's Office, notwithstanding lawmakers reluctance to become involved in the recent unionization dispute.
For the full report, click here.