Community Government

Investigation faults Caldier for naming names

Posted on May 6th, 2024 By:

An investigation ordered by the Washington state House of Representatives alleges that Rep. Michelle Caldier violated the chamber’s respectful workplace policy by retaliating against House staff.

It spins off from a previous investigation in 2023 that accused Caldier of abusing and bullying staff. Caldier asserts they retaliated against her for seeking accommodations for a vision problem.

Kathleen Haggard of the law firm Haggard & Ganson conducted the recent inquiry at the request of Chief Clerk of the House Bernard Dean. In a report dated April 3 and released to the media on May 6, she stated that Caldier, R-Gig Harbor, disclosed to several press outlets the names of three caucus employees who had spoken during the earlier investigation about Caldier’s behavior. One of the names was published in a local newspaper.

Rep. Michelle Caldier speaks during the legislative sendoff Wednesday.

Rep. Michelle Caldier speaks during the legislative sendoff in January. Photo by Ed Friedrich

The identities of complainants and witnesses in investigations must be protected and shared only on a need-to-know basis, Haggard said the policy states.

“A preponderance of evidence supports a finding that Representative Caldier’s actions violated the Respectful Workplace Policy,” Haggard concluded. “Caldier’s actions were retaliatory and bullying; she lashed out at the witnesses not only by disclosing their names, but by portraying them as political operatives. In doing so she may have damaged their careers. This was a failure of respect, dignity, and civility, in violation of the Legislative Code of Conduct.”

Caldier is seeking a sixth two-year term in the state House representing the 26th District. Challenging her is Josh Smith, a former National Weather Service meteorologist and state Elections Division employee running as an independent. Smith is also a Gig Harbor resident. Political candidates can formally file this week to run for office in the 2024 election.

The underlying investigation

An independent investigation released in December by the chief clerk alleged that Caldier violated the House’s policies on abusive behavior and bullying. The investigation was conducted by attorney Sheryl J. Willert of the law firm Williams Kastner.

The chief clerk’s office requested it on Dec. 14, 2022, about a month after a verbal incident between Caldier and House Republican Caucus staff at the Spokane Airport on Nov. 18, 2022.

The incident came as legislators and caucus staff prepared to leave Spokane after a House Republican Organization Committee meeting. During that meeting, Caldier resigned from the caucus, which she later explained was in frustration over disagreements with caucus leadership and what she argued was insufficient accommodation for her vision loss.

Caldier returned to the House Republican Caucus this spring, after former minority leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm stepped down from the role.

State Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Gig Harbor, on the House floor in 2020. Photo courtesy House Republican Caucus

Caldier received a copy of Willert’s report on Dec. 15, 2023. She responded on Dec. 18 by emailing a press release to several news outlets. It attached an email from her attorney, Edward Younglove III. The news release identified “three main complainants” who it said prompted the investigation. It claimed the investigation was retaliation against her for questioning Wilcox’s leadership.

Caldier told Haggard the policy doesn’t expressly prohibit members from disclosing the identities of complainants and witnesses. At the least, it is vague. Her attorney wrote that the rules should be clarified instead of punishing members for misinterpreting vague guidelines.

On Dec. 20, 2023, Chief Clerk Dean notified Caldier that the House intended to investigate her potential policy violations. He sent her the report on Friday, triggering its release to the media on Monday.

Caldier’s appeal pending

Caldier’s appeal is still pending before the Executive Rules Committee in the underlying investigation as Republican leadership held off on making a decision until this retaliation investigation is complete, Dean said Monday. Now they’ll address both the appeal and how to respond to the new allegations. He expects that to occur “in the next week or so.”

In December, Dean restricted Caldier’s access to staff, making her request help through senior managers instead of contacting staff directly. The Caucus assigned her a legislative assistant, though with restrictions such as limited overtime and periodic check-ins.

“Those were intermediary measures put in place while this retaliation investigation was going to be conducted to protect staff from any further issues,” Dean said. “Now that the retaliation investigation is complete, we will have to make decisions around what that looks like going forward, if the restrictions are left in play or modified, etc.”

Caldier gave up her committee assignments when she left the caucus, but got them back at the end of the legislative session, Dean said.

Rep. Michelle Caldier

Reached Monday at a wedding in Cancun, Caldier said the attacks against her are all political. Monday marked the first day of election-year restrictions.

“The presumption is everything released from the Legislature is all campaign-related, which says a lot because this is very campaign-related,” she said. “… Essentially the only way you can defend yourself through this process is through the press, and the press hasn’t been that nice to me. I felt I had to release the names to give the context they were the top three staffers of J.T. Wilcox, and the day before I had just left the caucus.

“It was all related, it was not a thing where random people came up and file claims against me. It was very coordinated, very related.”

Believes public can see through politics

The investigation stated the three who were named were not beholden to Wilcox and were not “highest ranking.” It added that “not all of them have supervisory authority, let alone the ‘highest’ rank.” They denied they are puppets of caucus leadership.

Forty-four members have signed a request for the speaker to assemble a work group to review the process, which isn’t clear, Caldier said. She believes people will see through the politics.

“People are smarter than what political leaders believe they are,” she said. “I think the community knows that’s not who I am. I have to trust they do. When they go through the process, the goal is to destroy your reputation so you can’t get re-elected. It should not be weaponized at all.

“What they’ve written is not my character at all and I have to trust the public will see through all that. If they don’t, they don’t. That’s politics.”