Walla Walla lawyer acquitted in false subpoena case

William McCool 'made a big mistake, but it's not a crime. It's a mistake,' his lawyer said today.

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WALLA WALLA -- A well-known local defense attorney has been acquitted of barratry, an obscure criminal charge that accused him of issuing a false subpoena to help his client and then-girlfriend involved in a business dispute.

William McCool was found not guilty in a decision signed Friday by Richard W. Miller, a Superior Court judge from Adams County who presided over McCool's two-day trial in Walla Walla in September.

Miller ruled that McCool could be accused of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct, but did not technically violate the law because a subpoena isn't "judicial process" as required by the definition of the crime.

"I'm pleased with the ultimate decision," McCool said in an interview this morning. But he added he disagrees with a contention by Miller that he intended to deceive the person to whom he sent the subpoena.

McCool's attorney, Janelle Carman, said she was expecting a not-guilty verdict. But, "It's definitely a relief to have it over."

"Bill made a big mistake, but it's not a crime. It's a mistake," she said.

The misdemeanor charge against McCool stemmed from an allegation that in April 2008, he sent to Scott Rowland -- a representative of a Salem-based company that printed the now-defunct Foyer magazine -- a document purporting to be a subpoena in an attempt to get information on printing quantities for advertiser Trisha Bush.

McCool testified at his trial he believed Rowland would provide data on the number of copies printed if he received a subpoena. McCool said he believed that issuing the document was allowed, even though no lawsuit had been filed or was pending in the court system. Carman also called local attorneys to the witness stand to testify they didn't always adhere to strict procedures required in issuing subpoenas.

But Assistant Attorney General Justin Ericksen maintained McCool not only didn't follow court rules, but broke the law. The subpoena was completely improper because no lawsuit existed, Ericksen said. He called the document "false and misleading" and issuing it "a ruse" to obtain information that wasn't legally available to Bush.

In rendering his written opinion, Miller determined that McCool's actions did not rise to the level of committing the crime of barratry. Miller ruled that a subpoena is not "judicial process" because it's not issued by a judge or subject to judicial action.

But Miller criticized McCool's conduct, writing, "At the very least, it amounts to a misuse of legal process which operated to deceive Rowland.

"The obvious goal was to trick Rowland into producing documents he considered confidential ...," Miller wrote.

McCool also had been charged with the more-serious crime of improperly obtaining financial information, but Miller dismissed the felony charge during McCool's trial Sept. 9 and 10.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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