Note: Story has been updated below with a description of the outcome of the hearing.
OLYMPIA, Sept. 27.—Ever since Republican Brad Toft entered the race for state Senate in the 5th Legislative District in east King County, there’s been a wild story going around – something about a former female employee dogging him at public meetings, making some sort of allegation of unethical conduct that never has been precisely clear. Now whatever it is, it looks like it’s going to get a full airing in court – and Toft’s former employees are backing him up.
Toft is going to court Friday for an anti-harrassment order against Kelly Spratt, the Sammamish woman who worked for him as a sales trainer at Quadrant Home Loans during the boom years in the mortgage business. The personal attacks she has leveled against him on the Internet and in public settings have crossed the line to the point that he fears for his own safety and that of his own family, he says. In a document filed with King County District Court, he calls her “clearly disturbed.” Toft tells Washington State Wire, “It makes me sick to think that people would do something like this and go after my family members. They are off-limits. That is the reason we filed for the anti-harassment order.”
Spratt has responded by filing a defamation lawsuit against Toft.
Toft and his supporters are calling it a politically motivated smear campaign with no basis in fact. It is a curious tale that demonstrates that in politics, whatever the truth of a charge, the fact that someone has made one is often damaging enough. The matter has surfaced obliquely in the public realm: Former state Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, alluded to the woman’s statements this summer in a series of public letters offering an endorsement of the Democrat in the race, Mark Mullet. She asserted, “Toft has a long history of disreputable behavior, and a current history of trying to cover it up – including intimidation [of] those who seek to expose him.” The Associated Press referred to Spratt’s charges in a story this summer, repeating her claim that Toft “lied and manipulated” — but without mentioning specifics or assessing the truth of the assertion.
Toft says statements Spratt pumped out via Twitter during the month of August finally went too far, and it’s time to take Spratt head-on. He wants the court to issue a no-contact order. “In this day and age, you can’t be too careful,” he says.
Over the Top
What’s it all about? Washington State Wire was unable to contact Spratt or her attorney Wednesday, but there’s a rather lengthy written trail, established by court records, letters, and by statements Spratt published on the Internet via Facebook and Twitter. Spratt worked under Toft at Quadrant Home Loans, a joint venture of homebuilder Quadrant and lender Wells Fargo, during the peak years of the mortgage business that started a decade ago. Toft left before the collapse of the industry in 2008.
The closest thing to a factual description of Spratt’s charges appears in a letter she wrote to 5th District Republican chairman Bob Brunjes, dated Feb. 24, 2012, and provided to Washington State Wire by the Toft campaign. In that letter, it’s a little hard to sift the claims of fact from a subjective description of life in a sales office with a tough-talking, hard-charging manager. It is an experience familiar to anyone who has worked in commission sales, the sort of environment in which some employees thrive and others don’t. But there’s no question something about it rubbed Spratt the wrong way. She writes, “Little did I know that I would ever work for someone so similar to Satan,” and she says the only reason workers stuck around “was because of the massive amounts of money we made.”
Where claims of fact are concerned, Spratt claims that Toft had an “intimate history” with a female co-worker in the office while he was married. She says Toft once boasted that as a Boy Scout, he and a friend used money raised at a car wash to take girls out on a date. She says that as a boss, Toft berated his subordinates and made them cry, citing at least one specific incident. And she says Toft would frequently swing a baseball bat in the office, “stopping short of hitting me… just to see me squirm.” Though Spratt claims that Toft is “the most unethical person I have ever worked for,” she does not explain how her charges rise to the level of ethical violations.
In her letter, Spratt offers names of former employees she says will support her. But a number of them have written to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee challenging her story. One was the male employee whom she claims Toft berated to the point of tears: “I do not recall any incident of Mr. Toft berating me,” he writes. The female subordinate with whom Spratt alleges Toft had an “intimate history” says Spratt misinterpreted a friendship, and says the story is “entirely false,” adding “I am willing to take a lie detector test at any time to clear my name.”
It’s life in the sales biz, says another. “The mortgage business is a tough business, and being 100 percent commission-based, you’re going to see a lot of turnover, but that had nothing to do with Brad,” he writes. “I’ve now been in the business for 10 years and [have] seen a lot of people come and go, but as far as managers are concerned, Brad is a quality individual and never meant any harm on any of his employees. He definitely tried to get the best out of his people and his direct approach made me into the salesperson I am today. He challenged me several times but never threatened me as Kelly portrayed in her letter.”
Washington State Wire spoke directly with Patty Soelie, a former sales manager who worked with both Toft and Spratt. “Brad was nothing but professional, aboveboard and a good communicator, very conscientious about the relationships amongst all the people in his office,” she said. Soelie says Spratt was hired from an entirely different field – hotel management – and learned quickly, but may have had trouble adapting to the culture of the office. “Her presence was a challenge to all of us and it was not what we were accustomed to as a working team,” she said. “It was not easy.” Though Spratt says in her letter that she quit because of Toft, Soelie said she continued working in the office after Toft left.
Toft says the story about the baseball bat in untrue.
The story has been making the rounds of Olympia for months – that Spratt has been showing up at public meetings in the 5th District where Toft has been speaking, denouncing his management of the office. It all started when Toft announced his campaign in December, and Spratt posted a message on his Facebook page: “You are Satan,” she said. “In fact, you are such a disgusting piece of crap that you make Satan look good.”
A document Toft filed with the court describes one political party meeting in May. It says Spratt disrupted the gathering by hurling accusations at Toft, sometimes yelling, until finally the chairman asked her to sit down and be quiet. “She slumped into her chair and threw her smart phone at the floor in disgust,” he wrote. “After the meeting, several people in the room directly expressed to me concern for my family’s safety.”
On Twitter, Spratt kept up a constant barrage of attacks; she sent emails to Toft and his wife vowing to keep it up. Toft hired a lawyer in June to write a letter asking that she cease all communication and stop posting public messages on his Facebook page. After the Associated Press story appeared in July, detailing an unrelated court case in which Toft had been involved in the ‘90s, Spratt continued to send messages via Twitter, including one as recent as Aug. 13 that asked, “How can you sleep at night?”
In his request to the court for the no-contact order, Toft says he doesn’t want to abridge Spratt’s free-speech rights. But he said, “Her persistent messages and aggressive tone, both in writing and in person, have caused reasonable concern for my family’s safety. We have contacted the local police to learn ways to be better informed on signs of escalation and how to keep our family safe.”
Spratt followed with a defamation lawsuit filed Sept. 21, claiming that Toft has made unspecified false statements about her employment “which tended to expose her to contempt, ridicule and obloquy,” and seeking $50,000 in damages.
Toft says the whole thing seems strange to him – he says he hadn’t heard from Spratt for years until he declared his candidacy. In politics there’s often the assumption that where there’s smoke there’s fire, and he said he fears some might think allegations are true without considering the behavior of his accuser. But there comes a time when things go too far. “We definitely are concerned about what extremes she may go to to carry this on, and who is egging her on to do it,” he said.
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UPDATE, Oct. 1: And how did the hearing turn out? All depends on whose statements you read. Toft issued a statement saying District Court Judge Peter Nault “secured from the bench an agreement from Ms. Kelly Spratt that she would discontinue her personal contact with me and my family.
“Judge Nault measured Ms. Spratt’s First Amendment rights to engage in political speech against my right as a citizen to be protected against harassing behavior. He determined that Ms. Spratt’s assurance that she would quit contacting me struck the appropriate balance between these interests.
“…I feel vindicated in my attempts to protect my family from additional harassment from Ms. Spratt. Now, it has the backing of a court agreement. Jill and I are happy to be putting this matter to rest and focusing on the needs of Washington State.”
But Janet Irons, attorney for Kelly Spratt, says it didn’t reach the level of a court directive. The key thing, she said, was that Toft’s petition was denied. She notes that the last actual face-to-face contact between Toft and Spratt came in May, prior to the letter sent by Toft’s attorney in June that requested no contact. She observes that Spratt’s remarks on Twitter, though they might have been addressed to Toft in a grammatical sense, actually went to Spratt’s Twitter followers and were not sent directly to Toft. In an email, Irons said, “Although Mr. Toft is attempting to spin the results, his petition to silence Ms. Spratt was most certainly denied, without conditions of any kind.
“Ms. Spratt worked with Mr. Toft for several years and feels strongly that Mr. Toft is not qualified for public office. Over the last six months she has raised questions about Mr. Toft, his work history, his criminal record, etc. Judge Nault indicated – repeatedly – that those communications were protected by the First Amendment. Mr. Toft has since stated that the Judge ordered Ms. Spratt to ‘stop’ contacting Mr. Toft and his family, which simply did not happen. The Judge did not instruct Ms. Spratt to change her conduct in any way. On the contrary, Judge Nault explained the First Amendment to Mr. Toft at some length, and indicated that Mr. Toft needed to ‘grow thicker skin’ if he wanted to be in the limelight.
“Even though Ms. Spratt successfully defended herself, my client finds this scenario alarming. Mr. Toft forced my client to defend herself in court for merely asserting her constitutional rights. My client feels strongly this should raise alarms across the political spectrum. Any time a candidate personally attacks a citizen, it has a chilling effect on the entire election process – which is deeply disturbing.”