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Originally published June 23, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified June 24, 2012 at 9:31 AM

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Truth Needle: Ferguson mischaracterized Dunn's criminal record

Truth needle: Democratic attorney-general candidate Bob Ferguson missed the mark when he said his opponent, Republican Reagan Dunn, was charged with a serious crime as a law student and was on probation for a year.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The claim: In the first televised debate in the state attorney-general race, Democratic candidate Bob Ferguson said Republican opponent Reagan Dunn was charged with a "serious crime" when he was a law student and "received probation for one year."

What we found: Mostly false.

Ferguson was referring to an incident that occurred in January 1989. According to King County District Court records, Dunn was charged with reckless driving, which he pleaded down to a negligent driving conviction after taking a driving safety course and paying a $50 fine.

Dunn was not a law student at the time. He was a 17-year-old high-school student.

He did not receive probation as part of his sentence.

In a follow-up interview, Ferguson said he "clearly misspoke" in saying Dunn was a law student in 1989. "We knew all along what age he was. We practiced that moment many times. I just spoke incorrectly on that," Ferguson said.

Regarding probation, Ferguson said court records in Dunn's case — specifically the docket — at one point noted: "Began tracking Probation."

But court officials say that was a misnomer, a term they used internally for an administrative process of monitoring cases to see if defendants were complying with judges' orders. Court officials say they no longer use that term in the same context.

Bob Dowd, director for the eastern division of King County District Court, said Dunn was not on probation.

Ferguson maintains, though, that Dunn was initially charged with a "serious" crime.

"If you're charged with something with the potential for jail time, it's serious," he said in an interview.

Dunn challenges that assertion, saying reckless driving was a misdemeanor and negligent driving is the "lightest criminal offense the law knows."

As for the underlying incident, court officials say records for driving offenses from 1989 — which would include the original police report in Dunn's case — have not been retained. By law, they are kept for only three years.

During the debate, Dunn said his offense was "doing doughnuts in the snow."

In a subsequent interview, he expanded on that, saying he was driving his 1976 Camaro in a Factoria parking lot. Dunn said he didn't hit anything and that alcohol or drugs weren't involved.

"There was roughly an inch of snow on the ground. It was an exciting thing for a 17-year-old in a muscle car," he said. "I spun the tires a bit, slid the car into a controlled drift into a parking spot. It was a well-executed maneuver. It was also illegal ... a stupid kid prank."

Whether reckless driving is a "serious crime" is a judgment call. But given the fact that Ferguson got some key facts wrong in his claim — such as Dunn's punishment and his age when the offense occurred — we find it mostly false.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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