Judge tosses ethics fine for state Corrections Dept. manager

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A manager at the Department of Corrections did not violate ethics rules by spending work hours on a nonprofit program she founded, a judge ruled Friday.

The Olympian reported that the decision by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor led to a $5,000 reduction in fines for Belinda Stewart. Stewart must still pay $8,400 for violating ethics rules by using an agency computer for an outside job.

The state Executive Ethics Board had argued that it properly fined Stewart for working on a nonprofit that helps felons re-enter society. The board contended that the work did not benefit Corrections Department employees. But Tabor said the work benefited the department because it has a role in reducing recidivism.

"She's been totally exonerated of any wrongdoing except for one technical violation," said Saxon Rodgers, Stewart's attorney.

Assistant Attorney General Chad Standifer, who represented the ethics board, disagreed with the characterization that the violation was "technical."

"It's either a violation, or it isn't," he said.

Both sides are considering appeals of the ruling. Rodgers said his client is disappointed about the $8,400 she is still being asked to pay. The fine is related to using her computer to store files for her other job as a "new warden trainer" for the National Institute of Corrections.

"It's a lot of money," Rodgers said. Stewart is still working at the Corrections Department as a communications and outreach manager.