San Juan County lawsuit updates

County settles four lawsuits in 2017; another case heads to state Supreme Court

Submitted by the San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

The following are updates on lawsuits filed against San Juan County.

Lawsuits settled

The county’s insurer has negotiated settlements in four cases, so far, in 2017. In each case, the county denied liability and the settlements were 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, 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 another case, former employee Chris Laws was paid $90,000 and his three lawyers were paid $60,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Laws about his employment. The basis of Geniuch and Laws’ lawsuits was disputed for over a year, and each case was settled without the county admitting liability.

“Every employment case has a certain risk, and the provisions for attorney fees typically motivate the insurer to accept a settlement as a business decision,” said County Manager Mike Thomas.

Geniuch and 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 Kriete received a settlement for an injury on the sheriff’s vessel when it ran aground near Sinclair Island in September 2012. Kriete injured her knee and sued the county and the vessel operator, Deputy Jeff Asher. Under the settlement, Kriete 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 Kriete and Special Deputy Prosecutor Gary Western of Seattle represented the county, San Juan 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 to the county jail in Friday Harbor. Also released from liability were Sheriff Ron Krebs and Deputy Sheriff Jack Wilsey, both of whom denied Terry’s version of the pat down. 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.

Local case heads to state Supreme Court

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 lawsuit that can allow recovery of attorney fees. Four permits are at issue. Community Treasures and John Evans paid $109.50 for each of three permits and Community Treasures paid $763 for a fourth permit. No exact amount was requested for reimbursement and according to Prosecutor Randall Gaylord, the amount, if any, would be 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 Nicholas Power and Stephen Brandli represent Community Treasures and Evans. Prosecutor Randall Gaylord represents San Juan County.

Public records lawsuit

In another case, Lopezian Ed Kilduff sued the county and Councilman Jamie Stephens for an alleged violation of the public records laws. The suit against 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 Nov. 1.

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