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Originally published October 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 30, 2008 at 11:48 AM

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Lawyers in angry duel during Dino Rossi deposition

In what one lawyer called the "most obstructive deposition" he'd ever participated in, little news was revealed about allegations gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi and the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) illegally coordinated a campaign attacking Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Seattle Times staff reporter

There were raised voices, stare-downs, threats to call a judge, accusations of defamation, orders not to lean across a table, and profanity.

And that was just between the lawyers in Dino Rossi's deposition Wednesday.

Rossi's lawyers objected to dozens of questions in the rancorous four-hour, closed-door session, fueling combative exchanges that appeared juvenile at times in the deposition transcript provided to the public.

What was striking about the deposition, particularly in its first two hours, was how little Rossi spoke.

A King County judge had ordered the Republican candidate for governor to testify about allegations that he and the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) illegally coordinated a campaign attacking his opponent, Gov. Christine Gregoire.

In what one lawyer called the "most obstructive deposition" he'd ever participated in, little news was revealed.

Between outbursts and objections, Rossi repeated what he's said previously: that he has done nothing that would violate state campaign-finance rules and the lawsuit is an attempt to undermine his campaign.

Lawyers grilling Rossi said several times they were going to call a judge to stop the obstructions.

Rossi's lawyer Mike Patterson told plaintiffs' attorney Mike Withey several times to stop staring at him with disdain.

Patterson said after a break that Withey had just told him to "shut the [expletive] up."

And Patterson told Knoll Lowney, another opposing lawyer, to stop yelling and stop leaning across a table toward him. That led to this exchange:

Lowney: "This table is 6 feet wide. I don't think I'm threatening you, and don't suggest that I am."

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Patterson: "I'm not suggesting you're threatening me."

Lowney: "We wanted to have a camera in here and you refused it."

Patterson: "You know what the court rules are with regard to that."

It's no wonder King County Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas told the lawyers via e-mail they wouldn't get any more time to question Rossi after she reviewed a partial transcript.

At the core of the conflict is a lawsuit against the BIAW by two former state Supreme Court justices who support the re-election of Gregoire. State law bars a candidate from coordinating with an independent campaign.

Rossi is not a party to the suit but was subpoenaed to testify as a witness.

On Wednesday, Rossi reiterated that his conversations with BIAW members in May 2007 — around the time the builders were discussing fundraising for the 2008 elections — occurred before he was a candidate. Therefore, he said, he couldn't have conducted illegal coordination with the BIAW.

Rossi also testified he didn't talk to BIAW members about raising money for his possible candidacy. He said he called several to quiet a clash between factions of the group so they could come together to support pro-business candidates in 2008.

"Dino Rossi answered these questions under oath and there's not one scintilla of evidence he did anything improper or inappropriate," Patterson said after the deposition.

Rossi said several times during questioning that at the time of his contact with the BIAW members, he was 75 percent sure he wasn't going to run for governor again because of the toll it takes on a family.

"Just like you folks, what you've done with me in bringing me here today in the last week of the campaign, serving my teenage daughter at my home with a subpoena for me for a lawsuit I'm not even a party to," he said.

Withey and Lowney maintained Rossi knew the BIAW was raising money for his possible candidacy, qualifying him as a candidate under state law.

They also said Rossi's answers showed he was encouraging the builders groups to come together "with a unitary fundraising effort."

Although Withey said he didn't think the deposition got to the truth of Rossi's alleged coordination with the BIAW, "progress was made" in the lawsuit.

Rossi tried several times to turn the tables on his questioners.

When they asked about his understanding of campaign laws and independent expenditures by groups like the BIAW, he replied by talking about spending by the union-backed Evergreen Progress, a political-action committee that supports Gregoire.

He called the lawsuit a "sham" and repeatedly said it was the work of "Gregoire operatives." He attacked Lowney at one point, saying the lawyer's questions weren't credible, and called the deposition "a farce."

"You've done this time and time again," Rossi said. "This is what you do for a living, apparently."

Lowney and Withey denied they were funded by Gregoire or Democrats, and Lowney demanded Patterson retract a statement to that effect, saying it defamed him.

Withey said he would ask the judge to sanction Patterson for obstructing the deposition.

Withey also downplayed reports that he and Lowney would sue to invalidate the election if Rossi won because of the BIAW's allegedly improper campaign.

"We're not there yet," he said.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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