- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A Senate panel on Monday turned its focus to the former head of the Department of Corrections who stepped down last year, just two months before the erroneous early release of thousands of prisoners was made public.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday asked three former employees at the agency - including current head Dan Pacholke, who is resigning - about the leadership style of Bernie Warner. Warner, who was appointed by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2011, left his job last October to work at a private company in Utah that runs prisons in eight states.

Republican senators on the committee also criticized a recent investigative report by Gov. Jay Inslee into the software coding error that affected sentencing calculations for about 3,000 prisoners that went unnoticed at the agency for a decade and then went unfixed for an additional three years. They say the report downplays Warner’s role in the delay.

Denise Doty, a former assistant secretary of corrections who is, to date, the highest ranking official within the agency to have known about the error, was one of those who testified before the committee.

She disputed the characterization in the governor’s investigative report, conducted by two former federal prosecutors, that said she did not notify Warner or other assistant secretaries once the error was brought to her attention in December 2012. But Doty told lawmakers that that while she doesn’t have a “specific recollection” of telling Warner, it was her normal practice to tell her bosses such information.

“I would have no reason not to,” she said.

Doty and Pacholke described Warner as aloof and distant, and said there was high turnover in the IT department after he took over. Email messages left at Utah-based Management and Training Corporation, where Warner is now working, were not immediately returned Monday.

Sens. Mike Padden and Steve O’Ban, the committee’s chairman and vice chairman, said they have invited Warner to speak to the committee but he has not indicated he would do so. He did speak with both the Senate private investigator, as well as with the governor’s investigators. But O’Ban said that based on the testimony the Senate panel has heard, he takes issue with the governor’s report stating that complaints of the environment at DOC under Warner’s leadership was not a component that led to delay in fixing the error.

“There’s clearly a pattern, it seems to me, of trying to downplay the clear impact of Bernie Warner and his mismanagement of this organization,” O’Ban said.

In an email, a spokeswoman for Inslee pointed reporters to a video clip from last week in which the governor noted that Warner was in charge when the error was discovered and that “responsibility starts with him.”

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