Temp judge in municipal court threatens to sue prosecutor

Drama continues from 2006 race

COUPEVILLE — The 2006 election is still haunting Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks.

Banks’ ghost of elections past is Amy Dempsey, a disgruntled former employee who filed $1 million claim against the county in January 2007 saying that he fired her because she supported his opponent in the 2006 race, Steve Selby.

Dempsey was fired when she didn’t come back to work after the 2006 election.

Dempsey’s claim against the county was settled out of court for $300,000 last year.

But Dempsey and her lawyer have since threatened to sue the prosecutor for defamation. A recent letter warning of legal action came as a reaction to a number of detailed motions filed by Banks to remove Dempsey, who now works as a municipal judge pro tempore, from cases involving Banks or any of his deputies.

Banks filed roughly 45 blanket motions and “certifications of prejudice” against Dempsey between October, after the claim was settled, and early January. Such filings are routine in court for lawyers who feel a judge may not be able to impartially handle a case due to extenuating circumstances.

In the filings, Banks goes into great detail why Dempsey was not fit to hear cases where Banks or the county has played a part. The documents shed new light on divisions in the prosecutor’s office during the volatile and often bitter

2006 campaign. Selby was the former chief criminal deputy in the prosecutor’s office but was fired by Banks after he announced his candidacy, and the employees were subsequently split between the two top dogs in the office during the heated race.

In her claim, Dempsey alleged that Banks had pressured her to take his side during the election cycle.

Banks painted a different picture in his motions of prejudice — one of an inexperienced lawyer who was quick to jump to judgement but one who almost gleefully inserted herself into the drama of the campaign.

“During most of the course of her employment with me, Ms. Dempsey repeatedly approached me and told me that she felt I was doing a great job, and that her co-workers were ‘cry babies’ and other derogatory terms,” he wrote.

Banks also wrote that she called him at home to tell him she had “turned around” one of the deputy prosecutors that supported Selby to support Banks.

Both sides don’t dispute that the relationship between Dempsey and Banks soured before Election Day. In the days before the election, Dempsey took out an advertisement in local papers that criticized Banks and supported Selby.

Banks’ court filings highlight that Dempsey felt intimidated in the heated campaign.

“She called me at home and told me that my opponent had called her three times and threatened her. She complained that he was intoxicated and frightened her,” according to court records.

“She told me that one of my opponent’s supporters had visited her house and frightened and intimidated her to get her to put up campaign signs in her yard. She indicated she was so fearful that she considered releasing her dogs to attack him,” Banks said in the court documents.

Banks claims in the court papers that Dempsey acted unprofessionally and even threatened him.

“Shortly before abandoning her job, Ms. Dempsey made a threatening phone call to my home telling me there would be ‘big problems’ for me if I did not retract a letter that she erroneously believed I had written to a newspaper,” he wrote.

Banks said Dempsey couldn’t be an impartial judge due to their history. He called her unethical and her actions during her employment in his office showed “the low regard she has for truthfulness and objectivity and is at odds with presiding over a fair and impartial trial.”

Banks also wrote that the harassment didn’t stop after the county agreed to settle the claim.

The day after media reports of the county’s settlement, Dempsey’s fiancé allegedly called Banks and claimed that the prosecutor had blocked a car prowl case that involved Dempsey as retaliation for her claim.

Banks said he never touched the case, but the allegation was nothing new.

“This was not the first time her fiancé had telephoned me at home, apparently at Ms. Dempsey’s request, with false allegations about my conduct,” Banks said in the motion.

“This shows Ms. Dempsey has a penchant for prejudging matters in which I’m involved as counsel, which continued after her monetary claim was resolved.”

Peter Moote, Dempsey’s attorney, said the motions filed by Banks were a cheap shot and an attack on Dempsey’s character. Moote called the affidavits libelous and defamatory.

“The only reason to do this is out of retaliation,” Moote said, adding that removing a judge from a case can be done with much less information.

“All that’s needed is to fill out a simple one-sentence affidavit,” he said.

Banks said the reason why he went into great detail was to provide the public with an explanation.

“The public should have access to public information why one government official doesn’t want to work with another government official,” he said.

Banks said everything he alleged in the document is true.

“They were all exactly the same. I signed it once under penalty of perjury, and copies of my signed affidavit were filed in Langley and Coupeville cases,” he said.

Moote said Banks has no evidence for his allegations, however.

“Mr. Banks did not come forward with independent reliable evidence to support his accusations,” Moote said. “Instead what you continue to receive from Mr. Banks and his attorneys are unverified, desperate and retaliatory accusations.”

Banks said it’s not an unusual request to ask for a new judge if a prosecutor believes the assigned judge can’t guarantee a fair trial. And in this case, Banks said he had plenty of reasons to ask for a replacement.

“During the time period in which we were filing them, we received a total of 19 cases from Langley and Coupeville. We had about another 26 pending.

“But, the number filed was irrelevant,” he said.

“The violation of the requirement for a fair and neutral judge existed in all the cases where she may have been on the bench, whether it was 10 cases or 10,000,” Banks added.

The issue first arose when Island County District Court assigned a Langley case to Dempsey that Banks’ office was prosecuting.

Court Administrator Maggie Paczkowski said it had simply slipped her mind and the issue was quickly resolved, adding that she knew the two sides should not work on the same court case.

“It was one little error,” she said.

“I want people to understand that the court would not put itself into such a position. It’s not fair to my judges. It’s not fair to the defendants,” Paczkowski added.

Things have since calmed down. Dempsey has not been assigned to any cases related to the prosecutor’s office and Banks hasn’t filed any motions to remove her from cases.

After Moote sent the letter to Banks Jan. 2, Banks’ lawyer, Anne Bremner, shot back a letter on Feb. 12 saying that Dempsey has no grounds for a lawsuit and that Banks was protected against her allegations under several layers of common and statutory law.

Moote said he is not sure if Dempsey wants to take action against Banks since the prosecutor’s office has stopped filing the affidavits.

But he said he wasn’t 100 percent sure that this is the last Banks will hear of Dempsey.

“We’re not sure. She hasn’t lost any job opportunities — yet,” Moote said. “In the end, reality is that only time will tell whether Amy actually suffers damage from Mr. Banks continuing conduct.”

“What should be of concern to those interested in this case here in Island County is that the county is once again under the cloud of a significant liability action due to his conduct,” Moote added.

There is a two-year statute of limitations on defamation actions.

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