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March 2, 2024

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Prominent lobbyist barred from Washington Capitol after ruling he stalked state representative

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OLYMPIA — As the Washington Legislature returns to an in-person session for the first time in two years, the usual flock of lobbyists is back, too, pressing lawmakers to pass, kill or amend bills on behalf of their clients.

But one prominent lobbyist is barred from the Capitol campus after a judge ruled he had stalked a state representative, leading her to flee her home for months.

State Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, last year obtained a domestic violence protective order against longtime lobbyist Cody Arledge, citing what she said was an escalating pattern of obsessive and threatening behavior after she broke off their romantic relationship in mid-2021.

“I feel terrorized by this man. I have broken down crying multiple times per day,” Davis wrote in a court declaration, adding she’d been unable to sleep, experienced “acute anxiety, including shaking and trembling …” and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Arledge in court papers denied he represents a danger to Davis, and accused her of retaliating against his lobbying practice — allegations Davis rejects as false and defamatory.

Their dispute — laid bare in hundreds of pages of court filings over the past two years — is now before the state Court of Appeals, where Arledge is challenging the restrictions on him as an “Orwellian” violation of his constitutional right to privacy and ability to work. Davis’ attorneys are defending the restrictions as necessary to protect her.

In imposing the restrictions on Arledge last May, a King County Superior Court judge said Davis’ fears were “more than reasonable under the circumstances” and she “should be entitled to have absolute security.”

Under the terms of the five-year protective order, Arledge cannot go within 1,000 feet of Davis’ home or her workplace, defined as the state Capitol and adjacent John L. O’Brien Building that houses state representatives’ offices. (Exceptions can be made if Davis is not at the Capitol.) He is required to wear an ankle bracelet with GPS monitoring for at least one year that alerts authorities and Davis via a phone app if he violates those conditions.

The situation is unusual if not unprecedented at the Capitol, where lobbyists and lawmakers mingle during the legislative session in a shared work space of hallways and hearing rooms.

While not commenting on the Davis matter, state House Chief Clerk Bernard Dean said it’s not unheard of for legislators to obtain protective orders barring people from showing up at their offices. But those have usually involved members of the public getting overheated about a political issue.

“It’s infrequent, but at times we have had protection orders where we have had individuals harassing our members,” Dean said.

Davis declined to comment for this story, citing safety concerns and the ongoing legal appeal. Arledge also declined to comment, on advice from his attorney, but pointed in a text message to a legal brief filed last week in his appeal.

In that Jan. 23 filing, the attorney, David Donnan, argued the electronic monitoring of Arledge “constitutes an unreasonable trespass and invasion of his right to privacy guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions.”

Donnan noted there had been no allegations of physical violence or explicit threats of violence by his client.

“I have never intentionally or repeatedly harassed the petitioner, intended to frighten or intimidate her, and I have never committed any act that would cause her to believe I intended to injure her,” Arledge wrote in a December 2021 declaration.

Arledge was arrested in July by the Washington State Patrol after he twice triggered his monitoring system by driving on a road adjacent to the Capitol campus. Davis, who was not at the Capitol, reported him to authorities after being alerted on her phone app. Arledge now faces two counts of violating the protective order in Thurston County District Court.

Davis, 36, was elected to the Legislature in 2018. She is also strategy director of the Washington Recovery Alliance, a nonprofit she helped found in 2014. She previously worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and championed the passage of “Ricky’s Law,” signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2016, which created an involuntary crisis commitment system for people with life-threatening addictions. The law was named after her friend, Ricky Garcia, whom she cared for while he struggled with a nearly fatal alcohol and drug addiction.

Arledge, 59, is a former firefighter who has been a registered lobbyist since 1990. His firm, The Arledge Group, made nearly $1.2 million in fees over the past two years, placing it among the upper tier of lobbying firms in the state, according to Public Disclosure Commission filings. His firm’s clients over that period included the city of Seattle, the Samish Indian Nation, the state’s film industry, and unions representing transit and sheet metal workers. Arledge also previously represented the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the gun control advocacy group.

He has donated more than $50,000 over the past decade to Democratic politicians, including Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Lt. Gov. Denny Heck.

Davis and Arledge had met when she was running for office, and bonded over a shared interest in drug and alcohol recovery policy, eventually becoming involved in an on-again, off-again relationship between 2019 and 2021.

Davis said in court papers that she broke up with Arledge for good in June 2021, telling him she wanted no more contact. But he continued to reach out, contacting her 17 times using new email addresses and disguised phone numbers, and also contacting her friends, efforts that Davis documented in her protective-order filings.

In a court declaration, Davis said Arledge’s “stalking behavior” grew increasingly frightening as he accused her of unfairly inflicting emotional pain on him. She said Arledge knew of her experience of domestic abuse in a previous relationship and “specifically and strategically used threats of suicide and threats against my career, which he knew had worked for my previous abuser, in order to intimidate, scare, and control me.”

Arledge’s messages had been directed to her personal email and phone. That changed on Nov. 1, 2021, when he emailed a “demand letter” to Davis’ legislative office, warning her “to stop retaliating against me, my co-workers, my firm and our clients for the ending of our romantic relationship.”

Arledge claimed she had blocked his firm from an interview with a prospective client and changed her position on legislation she’d previously supported to retaliate against him.

Davis rebutted those allegations, providing copies of texts, emails and calendar entries in court filings as evidence she had not retaliated or changed her position on the legislation. (Arledge did not offer similar documentation to support his claims in court filings.)

Davis saw Arledge’s letter as a major escalation, “subjecting my reputation to a baseless misconduct allegation that [he] hoped would serve as effective coercion.”

She left her home after receiving the letter, staying in multiple “safe houses” on the advice of a domestic-violence advocate, and distributed Arledge’s photo and vehicle description to neighbors.

That same month, she sought and received a temporary emergency protective order in King County Superior Court. Tumwater police served Arledge with the order at his home, confiscating 17 firearms and his concealed-carry permit. Most of the weapons were in a gun safe, though two Glock pistols were found on his refrigerator and bookshelf.

In the early 2000s Arledge lost his gun rights after convictions for violating a domestic-violence protective order, drug possession and criminal trespass. He successfully petitioned to have his rights restored in 2012, according to Thurston County court records.

Arledge and his attorneys expressed surprise at Davis’ reaction to the “demand letter,” saying it could not be regarded as a domestic-violence threat and was constitutionally protected free speech.

“This request, directed to Davis’s legislative email address was a petition to a government officer, protected since the days of the Magna Carta, and as such cannot serve as a basis for the punitive imposition of the order that was subsequently issued,” Donnan wrote in an August court filing.

In March 2022, a King County court commissioner rejected Davis’ request for a full protection order, ruling she hadn’t proven Arledge intended to threaten her. After the order was denied, Arledge contacted Tumwater police, seeking to get his guns back. Davis obtained a temporary Extreme Risk Protection Order stopping that from happening.

Davis appealed the commissioner’s ruling. In May 2022, King County Superior Judge Pro Tempore Leonid Ponomarchuk agreed with Davis’ attorneys, ruling that her fears that Arledge might harm her were reasonable. He cited a suicide attempt by Arledge a few months earlier as evidence of volatility.

Ponomarchuk rejected Arledge’s arguments that he had a constitutional right to contact Davis in the course of lobbying.

“Does a constituent have a right to address a legislator? Absolutely. Does a constituent who had a former relationship — intimate relationship with the legislator get to contact her, discuss personal issues under the aegis of official business? This Court finds you do not. You have forfeited that right,” Ponomarchuk said.

Arledge appealed that decision and his case is now before the state Court of Appeals, with no set date for a decision.

Arledge, in a declaration, said his lobbying style “is based on personal contact” with elected officials, staff and state agency directors he’d developed relationships with over the past 25 years, and predicted a ban from the Capitol “would be devastating to my business.”

But Davis’ attorneys countered that her right to be assured of personal safety outweighs Arledge’s objections. “This case is not about access to government. That is pretextual. This case is about access to her,” attorneys Jennifer Anderson and Yvonne Chin wrote in a Dec. 23 appellate brief.

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