Truth Needle: Not Much Truth in Nasty Attorney General Ads

Fri, Oct 26, 2012

Ads that are largely accurate in their specific components can be mostly false in overall impression or truth. That's the case with two TV ads from national groups — one Republican, one Democratic — trying to influence voters in our state attorney-general race.

The claims: One ad, by the Republican State Leadership Committee, attacks Democratic candidate Bob Ferguson. According to the ad, Ferguson said working for a cop killer was "a great feeling." The ad then quotes a local deputy sheriff, who says Ferguson helped the most "vile" kind of criminal. The deputy calls that decision "unfathomable" and claims it "says volumes" about Ferguson's public-safety priorities. The ad ends with a scene showing a boy on a playground swing. Then he disappears as if abducted.

The other, by the Washington Committee for Justice and Fairness, attacks Republican candidate Reagan Dunn, a former federal prosecutor. The ad says "prosecutors should keep us safe from criminals." But Dunn, it says, "cut a deal with a drug smuggler; he cut a deal and reduced the charges for a child pornographer; Dunn even cut a deal with a convicted domestic abuser who only 10 days after his release beat someone to death in a drunken rage."

What we found: Both ads are so misleading that they are mostly false.

The anti-Ferguson ad

It starts by referring to Ferguson's work for a cop killer. But it doesn't say that work was done two decades ago when Ferguson, now 47, was a second-year law student working under a grant for the Arizona Capital Representation Project. The organization sought to provide death-row inmates with legal representation.

Ferguson wrote a motion that helped get a lawyer for an inmate, Ronald Turney Williams, who killed two cops. Ferguson wasn't Williams' lawyer. He didn't help him get out of jail — Williams is still serving two life sentences.

Ferguson, who opposes the death penalty, told a student-law journal in 1993 that winning representation for Williams was "a great feeling." He went on to say the "reason I went to law school was to work against the death penalty." He has noted in debates and interviews that while he remains personally opposed to the death penalty, he would defend the state's right to impose capital punishment as attorney general.

The ad contends that "Washington law enforcement is outraged" by Ferguson's work in Arizona. Snohomish County sheriff's deputy Ian Huri appears in the ad saying Ferguson's work for Williams calls into question his decision-making and public-safety priorities.

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