A Declaratory Judgement Action

By Tim Rasmussen, Prosecuting Attorney

A Declaratory Judgement (also called a declaration) action is a particular kind of lawsuit in which one party asks the court to make a legal determination regarding a person’s rights in a matter. It is usually at the beginning of a case but can also be filed when the facts are not disputed. Although not very common, declarations do come up from time to time in civil matters.

About two weeks ago, I filed a Declaratory Judgment action in the matter of the Stevens County Commissioners’ misuse of the homelessness funds. I asked the court to decide whether the commissioners have the right to an attorney at public expense. I filed the action because I believe the law is clear that when a county official acts unlawfully, the county is not obligated to provide an attorney for them. The Declaratory Judgement action will decide this issue.

In a related matter, I have appointed attorney George Ahrend of Moses Lake as a Special Deputy Prosecuting Attorney to act on behalf of Stevens County. He has filed an action against the commissioners’ bond. (The law requires every elected official to have a bond to guarantee they will faithfully perform the duties of their office.)  I appointed Mr. Ahrend because he is skilled in these complicated matters, and I did not want to make a mistake that might cause the county to be unable to recover the funds from the bonding company. The court will decide Mr. Ahrend’s fee. This lawsuit is also a Declaratory Judgement action. The facts are not disputed. The State Auditor made a finding that the commissioners’ use of homelessness funds was considered a gift of public funds, which is prohibited by law. The lawsuit also asks the bonding company to pay the bond amount because the commissioners did not faithfully fulfill the duties of their offices by this illegal gift of public funds.

There are also criminal charges to be considered. This crime does not require an intent to commit a crime, just an intent to do what was done. I have decided that because I am in the process of suing the commissioners in civil court to recover the funds, I should conflict myself off the decision of whether or not criminal charges should be filed. I am in the process of making a referral for consideration of criminal charges.