Politics & Government

Roach investigations cost taxpayers $55,413

The latest round of investigations involving state Sen. Pam Roach has cost the state more than $55,000, according to documents released Wednesday.

The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee paid an outside lawyer $23,082 to investigate a complaint against Roach, before issuing a formal reprimand of her last month. It led her fellow Senate Republicans to bar her from their private caucus meetings.

The same investigator, Chris Farias of the law firm Stokes Lawrence, billed the state $32,331 to investigate a complaint that Roach filed against Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt.

Her complaint came the same day in April 2009 that another Republican senator filed a complaint against Roach, and like the complaint against her, it alleged violations of the Senate’s “respectful workplace” policy. The committee dismissed the complaint against Hewitt.

Roach said the investigation of her was a waste of money at a time when there are more important things for the Senate to be doing.

“I didn’t cause this to happen,” she said. “Petty politics aside, I’ll be here standing up for the people of the 31st District.”

The reprimand was the fifth disciplinary action against the Auburn resident in her 20 years in the Senate, and it came on a 6-1 vote by the committee, with Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, voting “no,” according to the report.

Roach asked that the committee reconsider both the reprimand and the dismissal of her complaint, but to no avail. The committee denied the requests at its Monday meeting, Senate Secretary Tom Hoemann said in a letter to Roach dated the same day.

Documents released this week as the result of a public-disclosure request from The News Tribune give more details of the investigation and its findings.

To look into the incidents, Farias interviewed a dozen senators, plus an unknown number of staff members and others whose names were mostly redacted from the reports. Farias declined to comment to a reporter or give her hourly rate.

Many of the people interviewed were witnesses to a 2009 verbal spat in the Senate Republican caucus room. The investigator found Roach launched a “personal, demeaning attack” on Senate attorney Michael Hoover over a disagreement about what could be posted on senators’ official Web sites. Roach told him he didn’t do his job and was plotting against senators, Hoover told the investigator, who concluded Roach was retaliating against Hoover for his part in earlier disciplinary actions against her.

Roach acknowledged she was angry and said she later apologized to Hoover, but she says Republican leaders blew it out of proportion as part of a campaign of harassment against her. Senate GOP Floor Leader Mark Schoesler filed the complaint.

The harassment dates back years, Roach told the investigator, and includes GOP leaders glaring at her, leaking information to the media – such as a rumor about her pulling a gun on an aide – and excluding her from committees, fundraisers and even a Senate GOP Facebook page. Most of all, Roach bristled at an incident in March 2008 when Hewitt bent over and flipped up his coattails as if to show her his clothed rear end, after Roach flashed an obscene gesture at him.

Farias found scant evidence of some of Roach’s harassment claims and saw others as legitimate Senate power struggles. As for Facebook: “Senator Roach can presumably send a Facebook request to join the group. I asked if she had done this. She told me she had not.”

The investigator blamed both senators for the “mooning incident” and said Roach appears to have started complaining publicly about the tiff to counter a disciplinary action against her at the time.

Hewitt declined to comment on the investigations.

“I couldn’t say anything,” Hewitt said, “other than it’s unfortunate that it ever happened.”