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Judge issues tongue lashing over Prosecutor’s Office vacancy

Steven Friederich | The Vidette Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey holds up the oath of office and says it’s time for someone to take it because the disruption to the Prosecutor’s Office is too great.Buy Photo
Steven Friederich | The Vidette Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey holds up the oath of office and says it’s time for someone to take it because the disruption to the Prosecutor’s Office is too great.

MONTESANO — Prosecutor appointee Vini Samuel refused to take the oath of office Monday afternoon after the Grays Harbor County Commissioners insisted she make up her mind. Instead, she told the commissioners she would give a firm answer as to whether she would accept the office on Wednesday. Meantime, Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey, dressed in his judge’s robes, gave a tongue lashing to the commissioners, Samuel, the Democrats and just about everyone else in the room.

Godfrey says that the law is murky as to whether Acting Prosecutor Gerald Fuller is “authorized by law” to prosecute crimes since Samuel was appointed prosecutor a month ago and hadn’t taken the oath of office yet. He noted that any criminal defense attorney worth his salt who has the time and money to challenge that principle may very well do so, putting judicial rulings and criminal filings in jeopardy.

“You made the appointment, so who’s running that operation down there?” Godfrey asked the commissioners. “So, who’s running that office? Because I have to sign documents signed by the prosecuting attorney. … We are in a tough situation of the court. I don’t care who you people pick. I want someone in front of me who is authorized to run the operation. You people need to get this thing over with so we can get on with this.”

Godfrey said that continued delays may force the judges to get a deputy attorney general to represent them to file legal action in state Supreme Court to get a firm opinion on what’s happening in the county.

“I apologize to you,” County Commissioner Frank Gordon told Godfrey. “I apologize that we put you and the superior court in such a rocky hard position.”

Gordon asked Samuel for a firm “yes” or “no” decision as to whether she would take the prosecutor’s position.

“If she says ‘yes’ then I want the judge to swear her in, if she does not say ‘yes’ then we will consider that a ‘no’ and ask to have three more people appointed for us to vote on,” Gordon said.

Samuel again refused to answer, saying she needed time. However, she said she would provide a firm answer by Wednesday in writing.

The Grays Harbor County commissioners appointed Montesano attorney Vini Samuel to the position on Oct. 21. But she has said previously that she doesn’t really want the post because she thinks Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda should have been picked.

Samuel was on the list of three names the Democrats picked for the county commissioners to choose their next prosecutor, but she was the third name on it. Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda was the Democrats’ top choice for the job. George Smylie, an attorney for the state, was also on the list.

Attorney Michael Spencer, a former prosecutor, was aced off the list, which spurred vocal outcries among his supporters, including several former county commissioners.

Former prosecutor Stew Menefee retired on Sept. 30.

The county had 60 days to pick their appointee, which they did when Samuel was picked on Oct. 21. The 60-day clock runs out on Nov. 29. If the position is still vacant by that date, does that mean the governor’s 30-day clock will start or did the original 60-day clock stop as soon as the appointment was made? It’s another question in legal murky waters. Meantime, Samuel has kept mum about what she would do about the appointment. On Nov. 20, County Commissioner Frank Gordon issued a memo to Samuel instructing her to come in on Monday, Nov. 25.

“Declining to take an oath of office or file an official bond on or by Monday will be considered refusal of the appointment,” Gordon said.

Gordon said he issued the memo after hearing from the judges that the lack of a firm decision by Samuel was causing havoc in Superior Court.

Samuel appeared Monday at 4 p.m., as scheduled, accompanied by her family and many friends. Dozens in the law enforcement and legal community were also in attendance. But she had issued a letter on Nov. 22 already telling the commissioners that she would not take the oath of office.

“I do not expect to finalize such a large decision without discussion with my family, which will not occur during your public meeting,” she wrote. “I will not take the oath at your meeting and I consider this an improper demand.”

On Monday, Samuel came prepared with questions, wanting to know why they selected her and the legal advice they sought giving them the impression they could force her to choose to take the oath of office or decline it. County Commissioner Herb Welch and Gordon told her that they thought she was the best fit for the position.

Commissioner Wes Cormier told her, “People in this community and throughout this country don’t like the political process and I think this is just a slap in the face. If you put yourself on the list, then you’re subject to being picked. That’s the message I wanted to send.”