Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he takes responsibility for his office’s failure to preserve emails related to the deadly 2014 Oso landslide. The Democrat issued a statement Tuesday after a judge vowed to impose a “significant monetary sanction” over the deleted emails.
The deleted emails were communications between expert witnesses hired to defend the state in a lawsuit brought by victims of the Oso landslide. Lawyers for those victims called it a “shocking” cover-up to hide evidence that showed the experts changed their opinions to protect the state’s interests.
For his part, Ferguson, who’s up for re-election this year, said his office is trying to recover the deleted emails. Ferguson also said the contract lawyer who was the focus of the judge’s order is no longer working on the case or for the attorney general’s office.
In addition, Ferguson has mandated internal training to ensure violations of the rules of evidence don’t happen again. The judge has not announced how much he intends to fine the attorney general’s office.
In his statement, Ferguson said, “The court found that we fell short of that duty in this case, and I am committed to preventing that from happening again.”
The Washington Attorney General’s Office employs approximately 570 lawyers.
Judge Roger Rogoff of King County Superior Court said the state’s violations “constitute more than an innocent, bumbling mistake” but also “constitute less than the conspiratorial cabal” alleged by the plaintiffs in the case.
Opening arguments in the lawsuit against the state of Washington and timber company Grandy Lake Forest Association are scheduled for Monday in King County Superior Court. Snohomish County was previously dismissed from the case.
Forty-three people were killed when a massive slide ripped through the Steelhead Haven community near Oso, Washington, on March 22, 2014.