Washington Business Advocates attorney Elizabeth Steen and our team previously helped small business owners and licensees who were investigated and fined by the state of Washington.
We stopped because it is increasingly difficult to provide a cost-effective service. By the time you pay us to fix your fine, you may as well have paid the fine.
A lot of people are familiar with law firms that operate like "tort trolls." These are lawyers who know how to work the system so that you will pay them to go away. They enter lawsuits that they know aren't valid. They target people who can't afford to defend themselves in court. And they ask for less money than a court battle would cost. They know that almost everyone will pay the money rather than go to court. The state of Washington operates the same way. For the most part, they just want a fine. Most fines can be negotiated down to about half what you were originally fined. You don't want to pay a lawyer to do that for you. You wouldn't save any money.
We handled many cases for daycare owners and daycare centers. Click Here for a free legal guide for a daycare provider who wants to fight an unfair or inaccurate punishment. Click here for a flowchart guide to the hearing process. We will update this site with guides for the other agencies.
Our guide will help you focus your defense and negotiate. We are also available for a consult if you want. Our clients have always been hardworking and honest people. Don't let anyone intimidate you. Don't lose your business. Protect yourself. You can do it.
Update: What to do if the state employee is lying or they pretend to lose your paperwork?
I still get about a call a week even after closing this aspect of our firm. Most calls start like this, "I have a story..." and then they tell me some variation of, "Well the employee was lying..." First, let me just say that I believe you. I did this for five years. The employees lie - or to be more precise, they swear under oath to things that really could not be true. DSHS employee M.M. swore under oath that a daycare provider who does not speak English had asked to speak to her without a lawyer and then agreed she owed a six-figure fine. M. also swore that the daycare provider, who again does not speak English and works 60 hours a week while raising a family, had somehow created daily attendance records that were "mirror images" of each other to support fraudulent billing. M. didn't have the attendance records available to prove her six-figure claim, even though I asked and waited for months. So I emailed all the provider's attendance records for the last three years and I asked M. to point out the sheets that were "mirror images." She has not responded. I didn't see any records that were "mirror images" in those three years and I find it pretty incredible that M. saw enough of them to support a fine of $180,640.54.
But I know that everyone reading this is thinking, "What if you're missing something? What if there's some explanation?" And sure. Maybe M. was just much to busy to explain how she fined someone who can't even speak English $180,640.54, and then how she discovered this person really truly wanted to pay the fine and told her so in English but without any witnesses, and also how this person had forged records that Misty just can't find yet because she's been so busy that she couldn't manage to locate the evidence for the $180,640.54 fine she wants. Maybe. It could happen.
So if your first thought was something like "Oh no that can't be right..." and it probably was. Then please remember that no matter how sincere you are, or how obvious the lie, most normal people will still respond the way you did reading that story. "That can't be right!" (Spoiler: M. put all of this story into a record that you can request from the Office of Administrative Hearings because she either doesn't see the problem or she's well aware that no one has time to monitor random administrative hearings to prevent six-figure state employee fraud).
And here is another story. DSHS employee K.R. and her cohort C.H. swore under oath that they read a police report describing dangerous conditions at a daycare. They used this police report to justify closing the daycare. I asked for a copy of the police report they said they had, and I still have the letter from the police department telling me: 1) There was no police report issued to the public: 2) The police officer K.R. said she talked to was never assigned to that case; and 3) The police report that was eventually created for internal records was written two months after K.R. and C.H. swore under oath that they had read the report. This feat of prognostication was reported to the relevant authorities and as far as I know nothing ever came of it. Again the matter is a public record that you could request from the Office of Administrative Hearings. But you won't. Because you're more worried about your own problems. Like everyone else.
I have a lot of these stories. So I personally, for myself, will believe you when you call and say "I don't understand. I wanted to do the right thing but this state employee is lying and can they get away with that?." (Oh yes they definitely can). But most people won't believe you. Even with evidence. Remember that. Don't expect to be rescued by the superheroes who monitor state employees demanding truth and justice.
Okay they're jerks but really, what do you DO?
First, your instinct will be to call their boss, call a state senator, or otherwise try to prove you have pull with someone who can stop the jerk. Trust me here. You don't. If you did, the jerk wouldn't be bothering you. So really please let go of the fantasy that someone will save you. You will have to rescue yourself here:
1) Make a record. The fastest easiest way to get a record you can use to help yourself is to ask the state employees who are lying. "Do you have proof of this? If there are attendance records that are mirror images and prove a six-figure fraud, then okay, please give them to me." People who are not lying will have no problem giving you their records. Best case scenario, they give you the records they have, you can see why they think what they think, and then you can both move forward. But of course it's rarely that easy. An employee who is lying doesn't want to have to create fake records too (although they can change the Intake Assessments in the DSHS system or edit a CPS intake - watch for records that are out of order or have timestamps that are the same as other records because that often means someone changed something later). But usually the employee who is lying will simply refuse to give you the record. They'll say they don't have it. And that's when you know they're lying. Everything the government touches must be recorded. So if the employees tell you that they don't have these records or they don't keep records of this type, then best case scenario is that they're not very good at their jobs. But more than likely they are lying.
2) Challenge the state employees records. State employees who are lying use default and missing records to avoid getting caught. They say they didn't get your hearing request. They say they have no record of a response. They default you and you can never do anything about it. So send everything by email or fax with pictures and receipts. Don't trust certified mail. If you send something by certified mail the state employees will just say that you "can't prove what was in the envelope" and it won't count. Fax or email is best. Do not EVER give a state employee original records - they will lose them immediately - and if you give them something in person then send an email listing everything you gave them.
3) Pay a fine. Most problems will go away if you're willing to pay a small fine. Is this right? No. Is this fair? Hell no. But it's the fastest easiest way to get these people out of your life. Be sure to make the conditions of paying the fine that you neither admit nor deny guilt, and make the state employees write the settlement so that it cannot be used in further legal proceedings against you. Some state employees think it's just so clever to ask a person to settle one complaint by signing an order that they can use as proof of guilt in future proceedings (Oh yes I remember what you tried to pull I.M., B.G., T.O., P.A... it's actually a long list now that I'm reminded...) Anyway. Once you sign something, anything they SAID to you goes out the window. So don't be tricked. Watch yourself.
4) Treat the state employees like a salesperson who wants your money. They're not your friend. This isn't a social call. You don't have to be rude, but you also don't have to pretend you're buddies. For what it's worth, in my experience, the people who are nicest, most friendly, and willing to be accomodating are the people who have the horror stories. Grumpy people rarely get screwed over by the state. Ask yourself: Am I getting what I want? Are they saying yes or no? What is really happening here? Actions speak louder than words. It's easy to miss the huge, glaring problem when it's presented as something like, "We only need your signature for our records. It's not a big deal. We know mistakes happen and we will sort that all out later..." Most people will think "Oh they're going to work it out I should just cooperate while they get this taken care of..." But wait. What are you signing? How exactly are they planning to "work it out?" Sure they made some soothing noises about everything being fine. But then they had you sign paperwork that can be used against you and you don't even know what you signed. (In five years, almost everyone signed anything that was put in front of them and I never had a clietn who could explain what they had signed. Not once). Treat the state employee like your high school acquaintance who just invited you to a "party" where you and 20 random people will learn about an "amazing new opportunity to create wealth without work. that will TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE." Multi-level marketing is a scam, and so is the state regulatory system. Be on your guard. And never sign anything.
5) Don't expect "a lawsuit" to fix everything. State employees can almost never be sued for actions taken in the course of their duties.
Okay so I need to be as wary of the state employees as I would be of someone who wants to sell me overpriced diet supplements, but really what do I DO...
The summary: Be cautious. Delay. Don't sign anything. Delay. Ask for records. Delay. Make your own records. Delay. Ask for the rules. Google the rules. Read the rules. Slow it all down and DELAY. Ask more questions. Just keep asking questions and asking questions until thing start to make sense. Don't be bullied or tricked into signing anything. Don't let them dismiss your hearing by losing paperwork. Don't let them move quickly. Bad news happens quickly in the state regulatory system. Good news takes a long time. Most likely they're there for a fine. Find out how much they want and, if you can, just pay it.