Ex-county treasury employee’s lawyer vows Supreme Court bid

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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TACOMA — Within two hours of arguing her case Monday before the state Court of Appeals, Jordan McCabe, the Seattle lawyer for convicted public-money embezzler Catherine Betts, vowed to take the case to the state Supreme Court if the appellate judges refuse to overturn her client’s conviction.

At issue are more than $600,000 in missing Clallam County money.

“There are some cases and issues I feel real strongly about, and this is one of them,” McCabe said.

“Several issues were no-brainers for our side.”

But McCabe said she was not confident the Supreme Court would take the case, citing the voluminous amount of evidence.

“The [state] Supreme Court does not like to accept cases with massive records.”

The appellate decision is expected in about three months.

Betts, 49, a former Clallam County Treasurer’s Office cashier, is appealing a July 27, 2011, Clallam County Superior Court conviction for stealing between $617,467 and $795,595 in real estate excise tax proceeds from a cash drawer between June 2003, when she became the cashier, and May 2009, when she was fired.

McCabe and state Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow, who successfully prosecuted Betts in 2011, presented their arguments and took questions during 30 minutes in front of Appeals Court Judges Jill Johanson, J. Robin Hunt and Christine Quinn-Brintnall.

The 2011 Clallam County jury found Betts guilty of first-degree theft, money laundering and 19 counts of filing false or fraudulent tax returns on behalf of the county.

She was sentenced to 12 years at the Washington Corrections Center for Women at Purdy, near Gig Harbor.

The money has never been found.

Clallam County approved a $597,516 insurance settlement to cover the theft, not including a $10,000 deductible.

Betts admitted to stealing an $877 check from the cash drawer.

But according to a state Auditor’s Office investigation, she employed an elaborate scheme of recording false check amounts, altering and destroying documents, manipulating spreadsheets and creating false passwords.

Marlow has estimated that she stole money more than 1,000 times over six years.

McCabe argued that the trial should not have been held in Clallam County.

“It was impossible to get an impartial jury, not because of pretrial publicity but because the jury pool was taxpayers and victims,” she said.

In her brief to the Court of Appeals, McCabe said a jury pool that consisted entirely of victims was “the 500-pound gorilla in the courtroom.”

But Marlow said with that argument, it would have been impossible to find an impartial jury anywhere in Washington.

A portion of real estate excise tax proceeds are returned to the county and a portion goes into the state general fund, he said.

“Every person in Washington was a victim of the crime Cathy Betts committed,” Marlow said.

The justices also focused on a county policy that had required Betts to “candidly volunteer” information for the county investigation into the missing funds.

McCabe said the policy is “inherently coercive” and forced her to incriminate herself.

“The policy says you have to answer the questions or be fired.”

She argued to the court that the county personnel policy that requires employees to cooperate with inquiries into wrongdoing also requires them to answer questions from supervisors under penalty of termination, and that is “inherently coercive.”

Marlow responded Monday that Clallam County Superior Court Judge George L. Wood “found it was not coercive by any stretch of the imagination.”

McCabe also argued that several people in the Treasurer’s Office had access to the same records as Betts.

Treasurer’s Office employees also used her password for real estate excise tax transactions and had access to spreadsheets of hers without using her password, McCabe said.

Betts cannot be punished or held accountable for embezzling the funds when the record-keeping system at the Treasurer’s Office was “so lax,” she said.

McCabe, who concentrates her practice on higher court cases, said she could not tell by the judges’ questions and comments how they might rule, but said the appeals court rarely reverses lower-court decisions.

“It’s really hard to get a reversal anymore,” she said.

The tribunal’s main concern is that Betts received a fair trial, Marlow said.

“I am comfortable, and I hope, that they come down on the state’s side,” he said.

“That remains to be seen, of course.”

An audio recording of he Appeals Court session Monday will be online at www.courts.wa.gov by Thursday.

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 01. 2013 6:17PM
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