If there's one thing I've learned from the real political journalists, it's that exaggerating your résumé during a campaign debate is a sure disqualification from office. So by that measure, you'd think Republican attorney general candidate Reagan Dunn's political career would be all but officially over.
During a June 12 attorney general debate in Spokane, Dunn and Democratic opponent Bob Ferguson tussled over who has the best résumé for the office. Adopting a tough-on-crime demeanor, Dunn repeatedly touted his stint prosecuting drug smugglers and gangbangers, criminal experience that Ferguson dismissed as not particularly relevant to the job.
"The office is a civil practice," explained Ferguson. "Less than 1 percent of what we do, said Rob McKenna at this debate four years ago, is a criminal practice." Ferguson pointed to his own civil practice at the prestigious firm of Preston, Gates & Ellis (now K&L Gates) as a much better fit for attorney general than Dunn's prosecutorial experience. But Dunn refused to cede the advantage.
"I've worked in a very complex civil practice as well, from 1997 to 2001," Dunn definitively declared. And when Ferguson questioned his claim, suggesting Dunn's civil practice lasted less than two years, Dunn doubled-down: "You're absolutely wrong, Mr. Ferguson, about the length of my civil practice. It's more like three and a half years. You practiced for exactly four and a half years. You've got a year."
Except Dunn wasn't even an attorney for much of that time.
According to his own campaign website, Dunn didn't graduate from law school until 1998, while his Washington State Bar Association profile says he wasn't admitted to practice law until January 11, 1999. And it's not until May 24, 1999, that a notice in the Seattle Times announces that Dunn was "appointed associate attorney" at Inslee, Best, Doezie & Ryder.
Dunn's website says he started work at the US Department of Justice in January 2001. So it looks like Dunn's civil practice lasted from May of 1999 through December of 2000. That's one and a half years, not the three and a half years Dunn forcefully claimed.
And it's not the first time Dunn has been caught making similar exaggerations. In a profile published during Dunn's 2005 campaign for the King County Council, the Seattle P-I's Neil Modie wrote that Dunn boasted "nearly 10 years of local, state, and federal government experience," but admitted he included part-time work writing research memos for law firms while finishing law school.
Dunn's campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but no doubt he must count his part-time non-lawyer memo-writing experience as part of his "very complex civil practice" as well. But no honest attorney would.
"It's a materially misleading statement," says Professor John Strait, who teaches legal ethics at Seattle University School of Law. Legal interns might assist with cases under "Rule 9," explains Strait, but "you wouldn't describe it as practicing law."
"We discipline Rule 9 interns who identify themselves as lawyers," says Strait. "They're not. They're not supposed to do that."
Back in 2008, the Seattle Times torpedoed Darcy Burner's congressional campaign, excoriating her in a front-page story for claiming in a debate, "I loved economics so much that I got a degree in it from Harvard," when in fact she earned a degree in computer science with a "special field" in economics—Harvard terminology that somewhat equates to what other schools call a minor. Seven semesters of economics and related math classes plus the testimony of a Harvard dean wasn't enough to dissuade our local media from parsing this into a résumé-inflation scandal that arguably cost Burner the election.
Well, if Burner's statement was an exaggeration, then Dunn's incredible claim is an outright lie. For two of the years he claims to have "worked in a very complex civil practice," he wasn't even a lawyer. And if there is any consistency in our local media, if they truly are unbiased, if they have any pretense of nonpartisanship in their news coverage, they will hold Dunn to the same standards to which they hold Democrats.