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October 29, 2008 9:13 AM

Rossi deposition: pure politics or necessary legal step?

Posted by Bob Young

It seems to be all about the perp walk this morning -- or avoiding it.

At 10 a.m. Dino Rossi is ordered to testify about allegations that he had engaged in illegal campaign coordination with his biggest backers, the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW).

His inquisitors wanted the press to be there. Rossi objected and a judge agreed with him.

But liberal activists working with the lawyers grilling Rossi sent out a press release Tuesday providing precise directions to a "hallway just outside the law offices that anyone who goes to the law office must pass through." There, photographers might snap of photo of Rossi -- appearing to slink?! -- as he came to and from his deposition.

Then, the activists and lawyers might generate their October surprise -- photos and headlines about what Rossi said he said to builders when they were discussing fundraising for what one of their brethren called an "anatomy to the wall" campaign against Gov. Christine Gregoire. BIAW has dropped $6.3 million on that effort at last count.

Rossi has to counterattack.

So he's holding a press conference at 9:30 a.m. No slinking in and out of a lawyer's office for him.

He may have some friends with him. Former U.S. Attorney Mike McKay and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton sent out a press release Tuesday blasting Judge Paris Kallas for allowing a pre-election deposition of Rossi. The duo demanded that Gregoire call off the lawsuit by two supporters of hers that underlies the deposition drama.

To Rossi and his supporters this is now a political ambush by Gregoire operatives and the loony left.

The legal case against the BIAW, they note, is brought by Knoll Lowney, who sued Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McGavick late in his 2006 campaign. That suit stirred stories. But coverage was less visible seven months later when a federal judge dismissed the suit.

Lowney also represented the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which contributes heavily to Evergreen Progress PAC, the union equivalent of the BIAW. Evergreen Progress PAC gave $35,000 to Fuse, Republicans point out. Fuse is a liberal group that helps Lowney with public relations; they're his mouthpiece. The circle of liberal complicity is complete in the plot against Rossi.

Lowney says he's not being paid in this case. He's working on contingency. He has a class action suit against BIAW alleging the group breached its fiduciary trust with its members. That suit could pay big fees, he says. That's why an Arizona firm is helping with his case. Not because they're Gregoire fans, he says, but because they can see the potential payday.

Lowney does have a history of liberal activism. And he was on the winning side in at least one big case, getting the state Supreme Court to overturn Tim Eyman's Initiative 747. He says his case alleging improper coordination and his pre-election deposition of Rossi are crucial to putting teeth into the state's campaign finance laws.

Judge Kallas agreed with him on Monday, giving us today's deposition -- and another day of political theater.

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Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Jennifer Sullivan
Covers the state Legislature from Olympia.

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Writes about the city of Seattle and local politics.

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Writes about money and power from Seattle.