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County, former IS director reach settlement in 'whistleblower' lawsuit
San Juan County's insurance carrier — the Washington Counties Risk Pool — has reached a settlement with a former county information services manager who filed a "whistleblower" lawsuit following his dismissal in August 2010.
Under the settlement, George Johnson will receive $105,000 and Seattle attorney Jack Sheridan, who represented Johnson in the case, will receive $145,000 in legal fees. County officials on Friday announced the agreement in a prepared statement.
“We wanted to take this to court,” county Administrator Pete Rose said. “We have ample evidence that Mr. Johnson’s dismissal was based solely on his performance and on budget considerations. Our IS department continues to perform well with fewer people and at a lower cost.”
Johnson claimed that he was fired in retaliation for reporting perceived irregularities in how equipment had been purchased by the Department of Public Works. He filed a claim against the county in mid-December, 2010.
Rose said Johnson was not considered a whistleblower by the county, and that his claim of retaliation was based on a purchasing issue that Johnson never brought to the attention of either his supervisor or the administrator. Rose added that the purchasing issue was brought to his attention by another department and that he turned the mater over to the county prosecutor, who then contacted the state Auditor's Office.
Rose said that his department was already in the process of terminating Johnson before he became aware of the purchasing issue.
Initially, Johnson sought reinstatement, back pay, emotional harm damages, attorney's fees, and costs. At the time he was terminated, Johnson was paid $86,506 a year.
"This settlement was made by the Risk Pool strictly for economic reasons," Rose said. "We had no option, short of hiring our own attorneys and spending potentially hundreds of thousands of the taxpayers’ dollars on legal fees.”
According to the county, its risk pool — an insurance consortium that represents counties in various legal actions — amassed more than $180,000 in legal costs even without merits of the case having been heard in court. The settlement itself is paid by the risk pool, while the county's share of legal costs totals $20,000.
— Editor's note: the article above is based on a press release submitted Friday, Feb. 24, by county Communications Manager Stan Matthews.