Prosecutor must accept responsibility

Thurston County Prosecutor Ed Holm must stop blaming others for his shortcomings.

A Mason County jury has awarded three deputy prosecutors $1.52 million in damages for their claims of discrimination and retaliation in Holm's office. In a weak statement of defense after the stunning verdict last week, Holm noted that he was not a defendant in the case, that the female attorneys' filed suit against the county.

What a lame statement.

The allegations of discrimination and retaliation didn't involve the sheriff's office or the county clerk, the assessor or treasurer or any other office of county government. This case was centered entirely on Ed Holm and his actions, his managers and the manner in which Holm administered his office.

In a feeble attempt to shift blame from himself to the county, Holm said, "I have had no control over this case for six years." That may be true, but as an independently elected county official, Holm certainly had control over the office where the discrimination and retaliation occurred according to the jury's verdict.

The $1.52 million judgment is an indictment of Holm and his leadership abilities. The question Thurston County residents must ask themselves is whether things have improved in the prosecutor's office since these incidents took place. Has Holm created a nonhostile, professional working environment free of harassment and bias, sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior?

It's a legitimate question given the recent arrest of another deputy prosecuting attorney, William J. Halstead, at a Seattle Seahawks game. Halstead and another employee in the prosecutor's office were caught in a stall in a woman's restroom during a football game at Qwest field. King County sheriff deputies were responding to calls from employees that two people were having sex in a stall.

Halstead was arrested on suspicion of trespassing - being in the women's restroom - and obstructing a law enforcement officer. The woman Halstead was with, an administrative assistant in the prosecutor's office, was not arrested. The actions of the two employees raise questions about the kind of environment Holm has created in his office.

It's also worth reminding the county prosecutor that the original complaint filed by the three women in Thurston County in August 2001 alleged that Holm used lewd language - such as references to the size of some women's breasts, made off-color jokes and used sexual bias in giving out plum assignments or pay. The final complaint, refiled in Mason County in 2004, named Thurston County as a defendant, but centered on actions made in Holm's office by Holm and his subordinates. The county was named as defendant likely because that's where the money is.

The jury verdict supports an earlier investigation of Holm's leadership. Marcia Ruskin, an attorney and consultant, was hired by Thurston County commissioners to investigate the claims by the three deputy prosecutors. She found no discrimination or retaliation but said, "I think it is self-evident that Holm is not a particularly strong manager."

Voters, who last month returned unopposed Holm to office for another 4-year term, have to ask whether, the county prosecutor has righted the ship since the three former employees filed their lawsuit. The jury is still out on that one.