Toft's past legal woes spotlighted in state Senate race
Brad Toft, the lone Republican candidate seeking to fill the Eastside state Senate seat held until recently by Cheryl Pflug, asked court officials to seal an old court case a couple of months before he filed for office.
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A couple of months before Brad Toft emerged as the only Republican in a crucial state Senate race, he pressed officials to seal records from a past court case.
In a signed letter, Toft seemed to suggest that he wasn't the same person cited in the court files, saying that he shared a name with one of the parties but arguing that "the specific identity of the defendant is unclear." He wanted the records blocked from public inspection, declaring that the files might damage his reputation.
Toft, however, acknowledged to The Associated Press that he was the defendant in the 1995 case, saying he was simply exploring whether an old judgment could be vacated.
"I wasn't saying it wasn't me," Toft said. "I was just saying it was a resolved issue."
The revelation comes as Toft's background is receiving scrutiny after a blistering open letter from the former occupant of the Senate seat, a fellow Republican.
The 5th Legislative District, which stretches from Sammamish to Snoqualmie Pass, could very well determine whether the GOP can maintain a foothold of power in the state Legislature, and a Republican loss could dash the party's hopes of gaining a majority in the chamber.
The disorder began in May when GOP Sen. Cheryl Pflug announced her resignation just a few days after the candidate-filing period ended. That left Toft as the only Republican in the race, and the party has rallied behind him.
Pflug, who took a governor-appointed post with the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, has since sparred with fellow Republicans about her departure. Last week, in endorsing the Democratic candidate, Issaquah City Councilmember Mark Mullet, to replace her, she said Toft has a "history of egregious and disreputable behavior."
In an interview with The Seattle Times, she elaborated by producing information about 22 cases involving Toft — a mix of civil suits, speeding tickets and charges for driving with a suspended license, almost all of which occurred in the 1990s.
She also noted the 1995 case that Toft attempted to seal.
In that case, College Pro Painters filed a suit claiming he improperly enriched himself by becoming a franchisee but failing to make $10,000 in payments back to the company. About $4,000 in Toft's wages were garnisheed as part of the lawsuit, according to court records.
Toft said the case was a contract and royalties dispute that eventually was settled.
In March of this year, Toft sent his curious message to the court. He told officials that he found out about the ruling only after doing a background check on his name.
"Because I, to the best of my understanding, have never known or come into contact with the plaintiff, but share a name with the defendant, I am requesting that the judgment be vacated and, if possible sealed," he wrote.
Toft sent a similar letter regarding a 1998 case, in which someone sued for a couple thousand dollars in wages. The candidate didn't dispute in an interview that he was the target of the case but said he hadn't been aware of it.
Toft dismissed the old court cases, in addition to Pflug's attacks, as distractions.
"When I was young, I did dumb things," said Toft, who is now 39. "But I think voters reject these kinds of politics. People don't care about what happened nearly two decades ago; they care about what I'm going to do in office."
He said he is focused on persuading voters to support reducing regulations on businesses and altering the business-and-occupation tax to spur economic growth.
He faces a competitive race. Mullet, who is running as a conservative on fiscal issues and a liberal on social issues, has raised about $86,000 for the race, according to public-disclosure documents. Toft has raised some $63,000.
Democrats hold a 27-22 majority in the state Senate, though Republicans managed to bring over three conservative Democrats earlier this year to build a 25-24 majority for writing the state budget.
Chris Vance, the former state GOP chairman, said Republicans expect to pick up the seat formerly held by Democratic Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup and hope to oust Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island. Both are conservative Democrats. A couple of other seats are more challenging but have potential for Republicans, including those of Sens. Brian Hatfield of Raymond, Pacific County, and Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are on defense in a few other districts, so Vance said the party really has to defend all of its seats — including the one Toft is seeking — to seize the majority.
Seattle Times staff reporter Brian M. Rosenthal and researcher Gene Balk contributed to this story.