Commissioners to hire attorney in Banks case

Island County commissioners will hire two outside attorneys to defend against a lawsuit over the hiring of an outside attorney, according to Commissioner Jill Johnson.

The irony isn’t lost on her.

“In no way is this in the best interests of the citizens of Island County,” she said.

The commissioners publicly criticized Prosecutor Greg Banks during a meeting last week over his decision to appoint a Snohomish County deputy prosecutor to represent the board on matters related to a lawsuit Banks brought against a private attorney. Banks filed the lawsuit earlier this month against land-use attorney Susan Drummond, who the commissioners hired to advise them during the comprehensive plan amendment process. He claims that she is taking over one of the elected prosecutor’s duties without his consent, which is prohibited by the state constitution.

The commissioners indemnified Drummond in their contract with her, which means Island County will fund her defense against the lawsuit.

Because of this, Johnson argues that Banks is essentially suing the board of commissioners. That’s why the board is upset, she said, that Banks appointed an attorney as a special prosecutor to represent them on the indemnification clause.

“The person who is suing us shouldn’t get to pick our attorney,” Johnson said.

The commissioners said they aren’t happy to have a deputy prosecutor from Snohomish County representing them.

During the meeting last week, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson pointed out that Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, or WAPA, board was supporting Banks in the lawsuit and assigned a staff attorney to handle the case. She noted that the Snohomish County prosecutor is on the WAPA board.

“The scope of the appointment is only for the indemnification clause,” Price Johnson said. “Maybe that isn’t a clear conflict of interest in legal terms, but it certainly does raise a question of the appearance of fairness.”

The commissioners were also frustrated that they had to talk about litigation during a public meeting. Johnson explained that they could only go into executive session if their attorney was present; in this case, she said, that was impossible.

The commissioners voted to empower Price Johnson, the board chairwoman, to find an alternative attorney to represent the commissioners. In addition, she will work with Drummond to hire an attorney to represent her in defending against the lawsuit.

After they find the legal counsel they want, the commissioners will likely ask Banks to appoint him or her as a special prosecutor. If he refuses, then they will likely ask the judges to approve the contract, which is what they did with Drummond and spurred the lawsuit in the first place.

Banks is out of the office and was unavailable for comment for this story.