Embattled Yakima County Clerk Janelle Riddle is challenging a court order demanding she obtain additional bond protection to cover fiscal losses from her office.

Share story

YAKIMA — Yakima County Clerk Janelle Riddle is challenging a court order that directed her to obtain a $200,000 bond or be removed from office.

Riddle’s attorney said Yakima County Superior Court judges exceeded their authority by demanding she obtain bonding in excess of what is required by state law, that deadline for obtaining the bond was too soon, and that she was not given an opportunity to challenge the order.

The contentious case has required Yakima County to defer to neighboring Douglas County Prosecutor Steve Clem, who was appointed by Yakima Prosecutor Joe Brusic to defend Riddle so Brusic could avoid a possible conflict of interest. Clem has questioned the county’s actions.

“I know that relationships among the principals involved have been contentious and strained, to say the least,” Clem wrote in a letter to Brusic. “However, I believe it is in the best interest of all principals and for Yakima County to take a step back and reconsider the current course of action.”

A Yakima County Superior Court spokeswoman last week said the judges have not had a chance to review Clem’s response.

On May 4, in response to a state auditor’s report finding that more than $13,000 was unaccounted for from Riddle’s office in 2017, the superior court judges ordered Riddle to obtain another bond cover the county for the missing money and the cost of the investigation.

The order required Riddle to provide proof that the bond was obtained by June 6 or, as allowed by law, her office would be deemed vacant.

The order was signed by six of the court’s eight judges; Douglas Federspiel and Blaine Gibson were listed as “not present” on the signature line.

By law, Riddle already had a $200,000 bond, but presiding Judge David Elofson said in a May 4 letter to Riddle that losses from her previous failure to submit child-support orders to the state Division of Child Support combined with the 2017 irregularities would exceed the bond coverage.

But Clem said state law allows Riddle to take up to 10 business days from the expiration date on the order to obtain the bond, putting the deadline at June 18.

Clem also said judges exceeded their authority by asking Riddle to have bonding more than what state law requires.

State law requires county clerks to be bonded, but the value of the bond cannot exceed the amount required for the county treasurer’s bond. In the case of Yakima County, the treasurer’s bond is $250,000.

Clem also argues that no claims for payment have been filed against Riddle’s current bond and noted that the county did not draw on the bonds of other officials when auditors discovered fiscal irregularities in their departments in the past.

In the case of the 2017 audit report, Clem said Riddle was the one who reported the discrepancy to the state, and that the auditor recommended seeking recovery from the employee who was involved rather than Riddle.

But in the report, auditors noted that Riddle’s office needed to strengthen its control over how cash was handled, and recommended the county seek reimbursement of $3,599 and the investigation costs of $13,432 from either the employee responsible or the county’s insurance bonding company.