SEATTLE – Attorneys for victims and family members in a deadly 2014 landslide in Washington have accused state lawyers of orchestrating a fraud by deleting emails between expert witnesses for the state.
In a motion filed Tuesday, the attorneys say the state has spent over $3 million in taxpayer dollars developing the opinions of its seven-person expert team, The Seattle Times reported.
The victims' attorneys claim, however, that the deleting of the emails began with a pact approved by the attorney general to destroy the communications and hide what was being done.
The plaintiffs say they obtained some of the emails that were mistakenly spared from deletion and allege the emails show the experts were "constantly shifting their story in service of the state's defense."
"What we will never know is the true depth of this deceit, because the vast majority of emails were destroyed and will never see the light of day," the attorneys wrote.
A total of 43 people were killed in the March 22, 2014, slide in Oso, about 60 miles northeast of Seattle.
A major part of the case is focused on actions by the state — including the construction of a wall and sediment pond that the lawsuit says increased risks to the community.
The trial is expected to begin this fall.
The plaintiffs are requesting that Judge Roger Rogoff impose sanctions ranging from instructing a future jury to draw a "negative inference" from the email deletions to entering a liability judgment against the state.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office wasn't ready to respond to the allegations Tuesday, the Daily Herald reported.
"The Attorney General's Office received the plaintiffs' 30-page motion a few hours ago," spokesman Peter Lavallee said. "Our legal team will review the filing and respond soon to the court. Our response will be made public at that time."
The lawsuit is expected to involve one of the largest tort claims in Washington history. The state, Snohomish County and Grandy Lake Forest Associates, the firm that logged land above the slide, are named as defendants.