Lawyer pushes for copy of report in Franklin County embezzlement scandal

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldOctober 17, 2012 

Dennis Huston's lawyer is pushing to get a copy of the internal investigative report ordered by Franklin County in the wake of an alleged embezzlement scandal, claiming he has a right to see all documents related to his client.

John Jensen argued Tuesday that the county can't keep hiding behind claims the report is protected under attorney-client privilege.

Jensen said he has asked for the report on a number of occasions since Huston was charged earlier this year in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree theft, money laundering and cocaine possession.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow, who is handling the criminal case because of the county connection, has given relevant documents to the defense as they become available, Jensen told the court.

However, Marlow does not have access to the investigative report -- which the county commissioners have tried to keep confidential -- and Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant has refused to hand it over, Jensen added.

"What it says, I don't know ... other than what I've read on the front page of the paper," he told the judge. "Apparently, the Tri-City Herald reporter has a copy of this report, and I do not. It seems to me to be discoverable."

The Herald in late September anonymously received a copy of the nine-page report believed to be the same document that two of the three county commissioners have refused to make public since April.

The report, done by Kirkland private investigator Jim Webber, says the county didn't do enough after Huston admitted to having a criminal past. It concludes that Huston's superiors were "remiss in not taking any action in response to Mr. Huston's revelation, especially since Mr. Huston worked in a financial capacity."

Huston, 65, was the county's public works accounting and administrative director when he allegedly stole money to support his cocaine and gambling habits. Officials suspect he embezzled more than $2.8 million from the county since 1996, but the charges filed by Marlow allege a conservative loss of $1.8 million.

Huston's trial is scheduled Jan. 16.

Sant argued this is the reason why he asked the state Attorney General's Office to handle the criminal matter.

The internal investigation was done by Seattle lawyer Suzanne Michael at the direction of Franklin County officials, and therefore falls under attorney-client privilege, Sant said. Michael's investigation looked into issues not connected to the criminal investigation, like employment and other risk-related matters, he added.

Marlow said he doesn't know what's in the report, and has asked for a copy of it from Sant's office, but also been turned down.

"As a prosecutor, if I had it, I would provide it," he told Judge Craig Matheson.

The judge said he wants Michael to file a document with the court stating why the report is protected. He scheduled a Nov. 13 hearing to review her brief, and responses from Jensen and Marlow.

"Not everything a lawyer asks for, especially when they're working for an entity, is privileged," Matheson said.

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