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Judge Dismisses Recall Case Against Assessor

On two technicalities

By JESSE BURKHARDT

The Enterprise

That didn't take long.

The recall effort under way against Klickitat County Assessor Van Vandenberg was speedily dismissed on June 30 by visiting Yakima County Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson, who rejected the recall proponents' affidavit of charges.

After the hearing in Goldendale, Judge Gibson issued a brief order that, at least for now, ends the recall effort: "The petition for recall of Harold J. (Van) Vandenberg is insufficient and non-compliant with RCW 29A.56.110 and is hereby dismissed," read the order.

Gibson was in Goldendale to decide the matter after Klickitat County Superior Court Judge E. Thompson Reynolds recused himself from the case.

Vandenberg declined to make a statement on the judge's ruling.

"No comment, on the advice of my attorney," Vandenberg said on July 1.

White Salmon resident Richard Lyons, the primary organizer of the recall effort, said he was highly disappointed with the judge's decision.

"The judge threw it out on two technicalities. We never got to say two words," Lyons said. "We didn't have our address on the charges. The address was on the synopsis [filed by the Klickitat County Prosecutor's Office], just not on the actual charges themselves. The second reason was, the judge said evidence of the charges should have been in the document we filed -- he wouldn't let me present it in the court. It's frustrating to have gathered all this evidence and not even be able to present it."

Lyons explained that he and William Harrison, another organizer of the effort to recall Vandenberg, had not hired a lawyer to file the recall paperwork. However, Lyons said he had sought advice from county officials -- including the Auditor's Office and the Prosecutor's Office -- and he and Harrison believed they were following the proper procedures.

"We were going by the RCWs given to us by the county Auditor's Office on how to file the petitions. We thought we were doing what we were supposed to do," Lyons said. "Based on what we read [in the RCWs], we were following the process, and we checked with the Auditor. The judge basically said, `the Auditor is not a lawyer.'"

The judge's decision stopped the process before it got to the signature-gathering phase, and Lyons said he was not sure whether he would again try to put the recall on the ballot.

"Truthfully, I don't know where we are going," Lyons said. "I've spent months on this, with time and money out of my own pocket. We can't afford a lawyer. The judge threw out all our charges, and if we proceed from here, we'd have to start all over again. I'm not sure I'm financially or emotionally prepared to do this again."

Lyons began the recall campaign in March after appealing his 2008 property revaluation, contending his assessed property values were much higher than he believed was justified. After Lyons won his appeal before the Board of Equalization, the Assessor's Office appealed the Board of Equalization's decision to the state, and an angry Lyons decided to launch the recall effort.

Lyons said he didn't blame the judge, but felt justice was not served.

"I'm sure the judge was doing what he thinks was right," Lyons said. "We have all the evidence in the world, but it doesn't do any good if we can't show it."

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