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Ethics Hearing Begins For Former Top Washington Prisons Official

OLYMPIA, Wash. – An ethics hearing is underway for a former top Washington prison official. In opening statements Wednesday, the state accused Belinda Stewart of misusing state resources. Her attorney calls it a “political prosecution.”

Stewart is accused of running several non-profit organizations out of her office at the Washington Department of Corrections. She was communications director for the agency. The state ethics board says Stewart ordered staff to work on projects related to the non-profits, used state computers and vehicles to promote the organizations and even hired members of her church to work at an agency retirement event.

Stewart’s attorney is Saxon Rodgers. He responds that the non-profits were professional organizations related to corrections and says his client had permission to do the work.

“There’s no financial gain, no personal use of anything.”

Rodgers says Stewart is the target of a disgruntled former employee and a Republican state senator who lacked direct knowledge of the arrangement. The state ethics board recommends a $45,000 fine against Stewart. She’s still with the Department of Corrections, but in a different job.

The hearing is expected to last two days. But a final decision may not be announced until March.

On the Web:

Washington State Ethics Board

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."