Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Officials of Yakima, Washington reportedly asked the Washington Attorney General’s Office to investigate allegations that Municipal Court Clerk Sarah Matheny, a candidate for the elected office of Yakima County Clerk, had abused her authority to access records using her workstation attached to government databases in an effort to provide her with potentially damaging information of all other candidates in the election.
Reportedly Sarah had been previously disciplined for performing an illegal inquiry using the Washington State ACCESS telecommunication system to query Department of Licensing records on an opponent but at another point had used other systems to perform backgrounds on the other candidates, including alleged illegal use of the judicial records database.
Her opponents in that race were Janelle Riddle, Kathleen Carter, Jose Trevino and Steve Driscoll and were reportedly the subjects of her “investigation.”
According to Yakima City Manager Tony O’Rourke in a statement he is asking the Attorney General to investigate if other avenues were used by Sarah outside of the city’s record access system to gather information on political opponents and if such actions constituted a crime.
The background checks alleged were outside the scope permitted the general public in public disclosure requests. Information such as driver license records is statutorily prohibited from public disclosure as well as some information available in the court system. The city manager also believes the Primary Election might have been affected by the release of this information.
He further claimed a state investigation revealed that Sarah accessed information on her opponents in the state judicial services database more than 200 times over a period of several months.
“We’re going to have to ensure the sanctity and security of the electoral process,” Tony said. “We think it warrants an investigation by the state attorney general.”
The city terminated Sarah’s employment after a disciplinary hearing and she referred all inquiries to her attorney.
Sarah’s attorney contested the city’s actions pointing to the fact she had been disciplined in July for the incident involving Candidate Steve Driscoll’s driver record. She reportedly received the loss of one week’s vacation for this violation. Her attorney claims the subsequent firing was unfair because his client had already been disciplined over the matter.
The Yakima Herald reported:
“They were given the opportunity to step back and realize that they were going in the wrong direction and let her continue her job, and they failed to do that,” Pickett said in a Monday telephone interview. “The city of Yakima was given every opportunity.”
O’Rouke said a state investigation revealed that Matheny had accessed information on her opponents in the state judicial services database more than 200 times over a period of several months.
Pickett dismissed the city’s request to have the state attorney general look into the matter.
“I take it as the threat of a bully, and it’s utterly improper,” he said. “And the city knows that it is improper, period. And Ms. Matheny is not going to be bullied.”
Despite her firing, Matheny “is still campaigning,” Pickett said. She faces Riddle, a former deputy Yakima County clerk, in the November general election.
“She’s moving forward and is devoting 100 percent to her campaign,” he said.
One has to wonder how Sarah would even be considered by the electorate having by her own admission illegally accessed private information for purposes beneficial her politically. The office of County Clerk in Washington administrates the keeping of court documents and in addition other records filed with the county.
It could be asked whether her approach would be used against the residents of Yakima County whenever it suits her interests personally and if that information could be used against whomever she chooses.
By Darren Smith
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