Commissioners order attorney to rescind unilateral guilty plea
Franklin County moves to reverse Sant's actions in voting lawsuit
Last updated 9/23/2021 at 11:53am
PASCO – Franklin County commissioners this morning ordered the county attorney to file a court motion rescinding a previous admission of guilt in a lawsuit over alleged voting discrimination.
Chairman Clint Didier and Chairman Pro Tempore Rocky Mullen voted to support the action and approve amended resolution No. 2021-210; Commissioner Lowell “Brad” Peck opposed it during the 9 a.m. special meeting.
At issue is a filing 10 days ago authorized by Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Sant in connection with the United Latin American Citizens lawsuit against the county. The activist group is suing Franklin County because it does not have a race-based voting district carved out specifically for Latino residents.
This morning's special meeting and vote were the result of both Didier and Mullen accusing Sant of filing the guilty plea in direct opposition to the will of the board.
“This special meeting was called because we have no alternative,” Didier said, defending the innocense of Franklin County.
According to the resolution, the prosecuting attorney “is required by law to defend the position of the board.
“The prosecuting attorney did not heed concerns from the Board of Commissioners of our innocence, inexperience of outside council or the strategy in defending Frank County.”
Didier and Mullen agreed with the resolution, that “the Franklin County commissioners did not give informed consent or explicit direction” allowing Sant to take such action.
The resolution was read shortly after the meeting began at about 9:10 a.m.
Didier was ready to proceed immediately to a vote, but Peck and Mullen — on Sant's urging — agreed to move to executive session. In executive session, the board can discuss legal matters, but cannot make a decision.
Sant pleaded for the executive session to speak to commissioners outside of the public.
“Mr. Sant, we are here because of our legal counsel,” Didier said.
But the prosecuting attorney pressed the matter.
“Executive sessions are set up for pending litigation,” he said.
Peck moved for the session and Mullen seconded it.
“We have been through so many executive sessions that we’ve talked this thing in a full circle. I think that with the time set, we have to make a decision today,” Didier said, as the board moved behind closed doors for 30 minutes.
The board reconvened publicly, extending the executive session three more times for 90 minutes before voting publicly.
Both Sant and Didier noted that any move to rescind the admission of guilt had to be done in court by 4 p.m. today, the deadline to avoid a summary judgment finding Franklin County guilty of violating the Washington Voting Rights Act. Such a plea and judgment could bind the county Redistricting Commission and force creation of a race-based district.
Following the vote, commissioners were under the gun to file court declarations by 4 p.m. explaining why the county was asking to rescind the guilty plea.
Didier read a statement outlining why the court should accept the change in the county plea.
“This action is required by our legal counsel entered a guilty plea contrary to explicit direction of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners,” he said, noting commissioners gave “clear direction” of the county’s innocence.
“Ultimately, he refused to act on our desire to enter an innocent plea and mount a defense,” Didier said. “Mr. Sant then acted without board authority and declared our guilt to the court.”
Didier and Mullen said previously they learned about Sant’s unilateral decision in the media.
“The board was shocked,” he said. “Our prosecuting attorney has declared our guilt, entered that position in the court and announced it to the public all without authority of the board. This meeting is to reverse that guilty plea, declare our innocence and establish a defense.”