WALLA WALLA — Witnesses began testifying Wednesday in the trial of a well-known local attorney accused of improperly issuing a document purporting to be a subpoena in connection with a client’s business dispute.
William McCool faces charges of improperly obtaining financial information and barratry.
The charges stem from allegations that last year McCool sent a man a subpoena — without the required judicial process — in an attempt to get financial information for local real estate broker and Preferred Properties owner Trisha Bush.
Bush was involved in an acrimonious business dispute with Nick Ellenburg, publisher of the now-defunct Foyer magazine.
Assistant Attorney General Justin Ericksen said in his opening statement Wednesday that McCool was "abusing his position and abusing the legal process" in seeking privileged information by issuing the subpoena.
But McCool’s attorney, Janelle Carman, said, "Reasonable and experienced attorneys make mistakes with regard to the issuance of subpoenas." A court rule spells out specific requirements and Carman maintains that proper procedures weren’t followed by Ericksen’s office in issuing subpoenas for this very criminal trial McCool is undergoing.
The trial, expected to last two days, is being held at the Walla Walla County Courthouse. Visiting Adams County Superior Court Judge Richard W. Miller is presiding over the case and will render verdicts because McCool waived his right to a jury trial.
Ellenburg and his wife, Angela Ellenburg, testified Wednesday morning. Bush was expected to take the stand later in the trial.
Bush — who advertised in Foyer — has said she had reason to believe Ellenburg was having thousands fewer copies of the magazine printed than what he had agreed to print.
Officials allege that in April 2008, McCool sent to Scott Rowland, a representative of a Salem-based company that printed the magazine, a document purporting to be a subpoena. The document commanded Rowland to appear for a deposition at McCool’s law office and to take along all records relating to receipts showing publication of Foyer for the past year. Alternatively Rowland could send information disclosing the number of copies.
Officials say the subpoena was improper because no lawsuit related to the business dispute had been filed or was pending in the court system.
McCool has admitted in court documents that he made a mistake in issuing the "subpoena," but thought at the time it was proper. He also claims he never tried to obtain financial information — defined by law as assets, liabilities or credit data — and sent Rowland the document so as not to place him in a "compromised situation."
Ericksen said Rowland made it clear he would only respond to a legitimate subpoena and that McCool undoubtedly would glean financial information about Foyer if he was provided with the number of magazine copies that were printed.