- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Two members of the Washington state House introduced a resolution Tuesday that seeks to start an impeachment process against indicted Auditor Troy Kelley.

House leaders, however, said such a move now would distract lawmakers from negotiations on a state operating budget.

The resolution introduced by Republican Reps. Drew MacEwen and Drew Stokesbary calls for Kelley to immediately resign and for the creation of a committee to begin to draft articles of impeachment if he refuses to do so.

Under the resolution, the committee would draft charges “relating to Troy Kelley’s malfeasance in office, including but not limited to the abandonment of his office, improper delegation of the power and duties of his office, failure of the duties of his office, and the willful neglect of duties of his office.”

It also calls for the House to convene and take action before the current special legislative session is set to end later this month.

“The integrity of the public’s trust is our highest duty,” MacEwen said at a news conference. “And when that trust is broken, it is our duty to act.”

Kelley began an unpaid leave of absence this month, weeks after his indictment on 10 counts alleging he stole from one-time business clients, avoided taxes and lied during a deposition in a civil case. He has pleaded not guilty.

Federal prosecutors say he kept more than $1 million that he should have refunded to customers of his former real estate services company.

In Kelley’s absence, the auditor’s office - which is charged with rooting out waste and fraud in state and local governments - is being headed by agency veteran Jan Jutte.

“It is clear that Troy Kelley has now abandoned his office,” Stokesbary said. “And the person who holds that office, qualified as she may be, did not obtain that position through any of the means prescribed in our state’s constitution.”

House leadership must agree to move the resolution forward, something leaders said Tuesday they were not willing to do at this time.

In a written statement, Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp said he and House Republican leader Dan Kristiansen agree that now is not the time to consider impeachment.

Chopp said lawmakers must focus on the state budget during the current special legislative session.

“Impeachment proceedings at this point would be a major distraction from the more pressing and time-sensitive challenges facing the Legislature,” he wrote.

MacEwen said that there may be differences on timing but he believes many lawmakers are in agreement on the principle involved.

“Is this a distraction? Potentially,” he said. “But this is Troy Kelley’s fault. Troy Kelley has put us in this position.”

On Monday, Gov. Inslee said he was impressed with Jutte’s leadership but the fact that Kelley’s federal trial was pushed back several months to next January “is an inordinate length of time for the state to have to go through this.”

“I would ask Mr. Kelley again to consider the honorable approach, which is his resignation,” Inslee said.

Kelley spokesman Mark Firmani said in an email that he had no comment.

If Kelley were impeached, or resigned, Inslee would appoint a replacement who would serve until Kelley’s term is up at the end of 2016.

A recent recall effort was halted on Friday after a judge said the petition by Will Knedlik, a disbarred attorney and former legislator, did not meet the legal threshold to put a recall before state voters.

If an impeachment effort were to ultimately move forward, a majority of the House must vote for it, and the Senate would hold the trial. A two-thirds vote of elected senators is required to remove someone from office.

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