By Royce Ferguson
Attorney at Law
It has been reported that recently-elected Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod wants to shed light on the manner of Ronda Reynolds’ death by having all the facts presented by impartial people, so the manner of her death may finally be decided by reasonable jurors (who, Mr. McLeod apparently believes, cannot be found among Lewis County residents). Recall that the former coroner refused to change Ronda’s death certificate from suicide, despite a Lewis County jury verdict which declared that the death was not suicide.
To this end, Coroner McLeod has announced that he’s appointed Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel as his deputy coroner, to convene six jurors in Clark County, to hear evidence selected and presented by Lewis County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney J. David Fine.
Unfortunately, rather than Lewis County citizens being comforted, the proposed inquest should deeply worry them (and will also cost them an estimated $50,000).
How can it fairly be said that the proposed inquest, conducted outside the scrutiny of Lewis County citizens, will be fair and impartial? Or that it will instill confidence in the conduct of Lewis County officials?
While I am the attorney representing Barbara Thompson in her legal quest for the truth in this case, the facts speak for themselves.
The court record is clear that Lewis County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Fine has battled Thompson in court for years, and that he has fought all her attempts to present any evidence of homicide to any court or any jury.
I am not saying or suggesting that Mr. Fine is doing anything unlawful or unethical, as court ethical rules do not govern coroner inquests. Yet, common sense and impartiality should govern both, particularly when searching for truth.
Below are some of the instances where Mr. Fine was fighting Thompson in court, and thus, fighting any notion of homicide and fighting to keep any evidence of murder from ever being presented to a jury:
July 14, 2008: See former Coroner Wilson’s written response to Thompson’s brief for judicial review, signed by attorneys John Justice and J. David Fine, both as attorneys for Wilson.
Sept. 19, 2008: See hearing transcript before Judge Richard Hicks wherein both attorneys Justice and Fine appear for Wilson, and Justice introduces Mr. Fine as “co-counsel” and then Fine actively argues against Thompson’s case.
Dec. 16, 2008: See written motion filed solely by Mr. Fine as attorney for Wilson to start an emergency appeal to stop Thompson’s case.
Jan. 9, 2009: See Judge Hicks’ ruling on the motion denying the emergency appeal, wherein the judge states in part, “The coroner, represented by Mr. Fine of the prosecuting attorney’s office, after this court denied their motion to dismiss based essentially on jurisdiction grounds, has now asked for certification (to set up an emergency appeal to stop Barb’s case) . . . ” Judge Hicks denied the request for emergency appeal.
May 15, 2009: See the transcript of hearing before Judge Hicks on Wilson’s request, presented and argued by Mr. Fine, that former Coroner Wilson be excused from the upcoming Lewis County jury trial on judicial review. (It should be noted that Mr. Wilson could have easily presented all the evidence he wanted in Lewis County, but elected to not do so, probably after consulting with his attorney. It may be fairly argued that Mr. Wilson’s lawyers were trying to obtain a court order to relieve him from having to appear before the Lewis County jury to listen to all the evidence, even if he didn’t want to present his own).
Sept. 29, 2009: Mr. Wilson was deposed and his testimony taken under oath. While Mr. Justice is noted as Wilson’s attorney, Mr. Fine is noted as the attorney “for the county” (even though Lewis County was not and is not a party to the court proceedings).
Can the citizens of Lewis County rest assured that the secluded coroner’s inquest, as presently proposed, will be impartial when a county official – who for years has actively resisted even the suggestion of homicide – is advising, controlling and presenting the selected evidence?
While Mr. Fine may have been acting zealously within the law in defending former Coroner Wilson in court, should not Coroner McLeod reconsider by whom evidence will be controlled, filtered, selected, considered and presented at his short inquest?
There are genuine concerns about Coroner McLeod’s claim that he wants to shed light on Ronda’s death. I have discussed one.
Another concern is the evidence or lack of evidence that will be purposely presented or omitted in the four days presently allotted for the inquest.
Royce Ferguson, an Everett lawyer, represents Ronda Reynolds’ mother in the civil case Barbara Thompson v. Terry L. Wilson, Lewis County Coroner, which was filed Aug. 18, 2006 in Lewis County Superior Court and resulted in the Nov. 2009 judicial review heard by a jury in Lewis County. The outcome is currently being appealed.