Legal Update | County Insurer Settles Four Lawsuits in First Half of 2017

— from San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord —

  • Another Case Headed to the Washington Supreme Court
  • Skagit Judge Will Hear Public Records Lawsuit in November

The County’s insurer has negotiated settlements in four cases in the first half of 2017. In each of the four cases, the County denied liability and the settlement was paid by the insurer after the County paid a deductible of $10,000. Two other cases will have hearings in the next three months.

In the first case, former employee John Geniuch and his ex-wife were paid a total of $123,945.79 and three lawyers were paid fees of $126,054.21 to resolve a lawsuit that was filed in Skagit County for claims regarding his separation of employment from the County.

In the second case, former employee Chris Laws was paid $90,000 and his three lawyers were paid $60,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Mr. Laws regarding his employment.

The basis of Geniuch and Laws lawsuits was disputed for over a year, and each case was settled without the County admitting it was liable. “Every employment case has a certain risk, and the provisions for attorney fees typically motivates the insurer to accept a settlement as a business decision,” said County Manager Mike Thomas.

Mr. Geniuch and Mr. Laws were represented by Nicholas Power of Friday Harbor and Roger M. Townsend and Cynthia J. Heidelberg of Seattle. Special Deputy Prosecutors Mike Kitson and Patricia Buchanan of Seattle represented the County and insurer.

In the third case, former San Juan Emergency Medical Technician Birgit Kreite received a settlement for an injury that occurred when the sheriff’s vessel Guardian ran aground near Sinclair Island in September 2012. Ms. Kriete injured her knee and sued the County and the vessel operator, Sheriff Deputy Jeff Asher. Under the settlement, Ms. Kreite received $50,000, her attorney received $50,000 and the Department of Labor and Industries received $50,000 for wage claims previously paid.

Robinson and Cole in Bellingham represented Ms. Kreite and Special Deputy Prosecutor Gary Western of Seattle represented the County, Deputy Asher, and the insurer.

In the fourth case, an inmate, Meloni Terry, received $24,000 and her legal and financial obligations of $8,000 were paid to settle an allegation that she was frisked improperly during transport from Orcas Island to the county jail in Friday Harbor. Also released from liability were Sheriff Ron Krebs and Deputy Sheriff Jack Wilsey, both of whom denied Ms.Terry’s version of the pat down.

Meloni Terry started her case on her own and was later assigned pro bono counsel with attorneys at Lane Powell Law firm in Seattle. Special Deputy Prosecutor Guy Bogdanovich of Olympia represented San Juan County.

In a fifth case, Community Treasurers and John Evans sued the County for a refund of a portion of the application fee they paid for building approvals They also requested a class
action, a kind of lawsuit that allows for recovery of attorney fees when it is established and a recovery is obtained. Four permits are at issue. Community Treasures and John Evans paid
$109.50 for each of three permits and Community Treasures paid $763 on a fourth permit. No exact amount was requested for reimbursement and according to Prosecutor Randall Gaylord, the amount, if any, would be just a small portion of the original fee. .

The case was dismissed by Judge Donald Eaton because Community Treasures and Evans went straight to court and did not pay under protest or complain about the fee and they failed to first ask for a practical administrative remedy before the County hearing examiner using the procedure that applies to other aspects of building approvals. The three judges of the court of appeals in Seattle agreed with Judge Eaton. The final step of the appeal is now at the Washington Supreme Court in Olympia, which will hear the case sometime in January or early February.

Friday Harbor attorneys Mr. Nicholas Power and Mr. Stephen Brandli represent Community Treasures and Mr. Evans. Prosecutor Randall Gaylord represents San Juan County.

In another case, Lopezian Ed Kilduff sued San Juan County and Council Member Jamie Stephens for alleging violation of the public records laws. The suit against Mr. Stephens was quickly determined to be unfounded and he was dismissed. The Skagit County Superior Court will hear testimony regarding the request for records on November 1, 2017.

Deputy Prosecutor Jonathan Cain and Mr. Jeffrey Meyers of Olympia represent San Juan County. Mr. Nicholas Power and Seattle Attorney Ms. Michele Earl-Hubbard represent Mr. Kilduff.

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Legal Update | County Insurer Settles Four Lawsuits in First Half of 2017 — 2 Comments

  1. re cases 1-3: you can deny liability all you want; no one pays $250,000, $150,000, and $100,000 to settle cases if there is NO liability!

  2. “The suit against Mr. Stephens was quickly determined to be unfounded and he was dismissed.”

    That’s an interesting sentence for a news story. What is “quickly”?