University of Washington Law Dean Subject of Ethics Complaint

December 11, 2006

The University of Washington Law School dean is facing an ethics complaint over his use of school time and computers for e-mail relating to his work as a State Farm Insurance board member.

W.H. “Joe” Knight Jr. could be fined as much as $5,000 per violation if the state Executive Ethics Board upholds the complaint, the panel’s executive director, Susan Harris, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

According to the complaint, Knight sent or received nearly 400 e-mails on his university account from 2002 to 2005 involving his work as legal affairs committee chairman for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Knight said Thursday he received a copy of the complaint this week. It was filed earlier in the fall by Molly Kenny, a lawyer for someone she would not identify, explaining that Knight “has the discretion to deprive” that person of “income from a well-remunerated position at the university.”

University spokesman Norman G. Arkans said school officials learned of the issue following a public records request about a year ago and decided Knight was violating a state ban on the use of public resources for business purposes.

“We informed Dean Knight that he had to stop doing it, which he did,” Arkans said, adding that Knight was not penalized.

The university will cooperate with the ethics board if there is an investigation, he added.

Knight told the newspaper that until last year, he thought his use of university e-mail fell within exceptions that allow for some personal use of computers as long as it is not overwhelming and does not interfere with one’s job.

“When people complained, I stopped it,” he said.

Knight said he does State Farm work from home and on weekends and attends board meetings eight days a year, all Sundays and Mondays.

He joined the university in 2001 after serving as vice provost and law professor at the University of Iowa, currently earns $251,580 a year and is in the midst of a routine five-year review which is unrelated to the complaint, Arkans said.

A spokeswoman for State Farm would not disclose how much Knight receives for his board work.

The ethics board has a backlog of about 60 cases and probably won’t look into the matter for a couple of months, Harris said.

Anyone can file an ethics complaint against a state employee, and the panel receives 80 to 100 a year, mostly involving the use of computer equipment and e-mail, she said.

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