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Prosecutor accused of defamation

A woman who won a $300,000 settlement against Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks last year has threatened him with litigation again.

Former deputy prosecutor Amy Dempsey’s attorney, Peter Moote of Freeland, wrote a letter dated Jan. 2 accusing Banks of filing “libelous declarations” against her in Oak Harbor District Court, where she works as a judge pro tem. The News-Times obtained a copy of the letter, as well as the response from Banks’ attorney, through a public records request.

The three-page affidavit of prejudice offers a new glimpse into the elected prosecutor’s side of the controversy, although Moote claims that it contains numerous false statements.

Moote said there’s no reason for Banks to write a lengthy exposition on the wrongs he felt Dempsey committed and thereby subject the county to a possible lawsuit. The affidavit could have been a simple sentence, without explanation, asking the court to disqualify Dempsey from cases Banks’ office handles and the request would have been honored.

“The only purpose is malicious vindictiveness,” Moote said. “There’s no other reason.”

Banks, on the other hand, said he felt it was important to explain why he didn’t want Dempsey to hear any of the cases that his office handles. Not doing so, he said, would have been unnecessarily secretive.

“I think that’s the responsible thing to do,” he said, “and the public has the right to know why we do the things we do.”

The issue goes back to the 2006 election, when former chief criminal deputy Steve Selby ran for prosecutor against Banks. After Banks fired Selby, the deputy prosecutors in the office lined up behind Selby, publicly supporting him. Banks hired Dempsey in the midst of the turmoil.

Dempsey eventually joined with the other deputy prosecutors — not including the two chief deputies — in endorsing Selby in an ad in the News-Times. But after Banks defeated his rival in the election, Dempsey stopped coming to work, later claiming she was “so sick with distress and anxiety that she had to call in sick and seek medical attention.”

Banks eventually fired her and she filed a claim for damages against the county, Banks and former chief criminal deputy Andrea Vingo. The claim accused Banks of pressuring her to publicly support him in the election and of unlawfully terminating her.

The Washington Counties Risk Pool, which is essentially the county’s insurance company, decided to settle the claim for $300,000, which Moote claimed was a vindication for Dempsey. Banks said it was just a business decision made because of the high cost of defending lawsuits.

Banks’ affidavits filed in the Oak Harbor District Court details a very different series of events than the ones outlined in Dempsey’s claim. He wrote that Dempsey repeatedly approached him to discuss the election, telling Banks that she supports him and felt he was doing a great job.

“She often ridiculed her co-workers because of their support of my 2006 election opponent,” Banks wrote. “She called me at home to discuss her co-workers and provide me her assessment of their involvement in the 2006 prosecutor election race.”

In addition, Banks wrote that Dempsey told him that Selby had threatened and harassed her to garner her support.

“She called me at home and told me that my opponent had called her three times and had threatened her,” Banks’ affidavit states. “She complained that he was intoxicated and frightened her.”

The affidavit goes on to state that in Washington State Bar Association proceedings, apparently against Selby, Dempsey submitted a letter asserting that Selby had never threatened or harassed her.

“This shows, at best, that her ability to accurately recount events is poor, and at worst, that she is willing to make misleading statements in official proceedings,” Banks wrote.

In a letter to Banks, Moote states that the affidavit contains numerous false statements that amount to a libelous, vindictive character attack.

“The interest to be protected is her reputation that has been severely defamed by your conduct,” Moote wrote.

In addition, Moote accuses Banks of “an abuse of process,” meaning a malicious and deliberate misuse of a regularly issued court process.

“The rules gives every party one opportunity to freely remove a judge from a case without the need for this type of libelous comment,” the letter states.

Moote asks Banks to stop filing the affidavits and to remove the ones already filed from court records.

Banks’ attorney, Anne Bremner of the Seattle firm Stafford Frey Cooper, wrote a response to Moote, defending Banks’ right to file the affidavit.

“Far from an abuse of process, Mr. Banks was satisfying his statutory obligation to his client, the people of the State of Washington, by stating specific facts to ensure personal conflicts between him and Ms. Dempsey did not endanger the integrity of judicial proceedings or the appearance of fairness therein,” the letter states.

Moreover, Banks “likely enjoys several layers of protection from Ms. Dempsey’s potential claims,” the attorney writes, citing case law to support his arguments. She also states that Dempsey would not be able to prove that Banks acted with actual malice because he wrote the affidavit to prevent unfairness in judicial proceedings.

In the end, Banks said his office no longer files affidavits against Dempsey because the court administration has stopped assigning her cases that the prosecutor’s office handles. Dempsey had been on the bench for the Langley municipal court calendar, which Banks’ office handles, but not for county cases, according to a letter from the court administrator to the county.

Moote said it’s up to Banks to figure out how to remove all the affidavits that have already been filed, but the prosecutor claims that’s simply impossible. Court records can be sealed for certain reasons, Banks said, but they wouldn’t apply in this case.

Moote said he’s unsure whether he and Dempsey will move forward with any legal action.

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