State settles Flaherty-prosecutors lawsuit for $710,000

DA says he objected, wanted a trial - believed he'd have prevailed

BEND, Ore. - Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty said Monday he strongly objected to the state's settlement of a $22 million federal lawsuit filed by three former prosecutors, saying he would have preferred to go to trial because he would have won against the trio's "meritless" claims.

In April 2011, former deputy DAs Phil Duong, Brentley Foster and Jody Vaughan sued Flaherty, the county and county commissioners, claiming wrongful discharge and alleging they were fired for trying to form a union after Flaherty took office.

The lawsuit sought $22 million in damages and reinstatement to their jobs, alleging wrongful discharge, unfair labor practices, sex discrimination and violations of their First Amendment rights to free speech and association.

The county and commissioners were released from liability later that year, leaving Flaherty as the sole defendant.

According to court documents made public Monday, the state has agreed to pay the three former prosecutors and their lawyers $710,000 in a settlement of the lawsuit. Vaughan will get about $250,000, Foster will receive $200,000 and Duong will collect almost $70,000. The rest goes to their lawyers.

The Bulletin reports (http://is.gd/zBRhjZ ) accusations were traded during the dispute.The fired prosecutors alleged Flaherty destroyed evidence, and Flaherty said the trio had a history of poor performance and misconduct that justified his decision not to keep them on after taking office.

Foster and Vaughan's lawyer, Andrew Altschul, receives $150,000 in attorney's fees. In a prepared statement, he wrote, "We are extremely pleased with this agreement. These hardworking attorneys were dedicated to serving the people of Deschutes County and deserve this award."

Foster also issued a statement, saying, "I did not want to sue anyone. I wanted to keep my job -- a job that I loved and a job that I still miss."

Foster noted that Flaherty "declared via his campaign Facebook page that he had no intention of firing any attorneys in the office, yet his first act in office was to do precisely that. I hope voters will remember that, because the story here shouldn't be the cost of the lawsuit. Mr. Flaherty has cost the taxpayers much more than money -- he's cost them justice."

Under terms of the settlement, the paper reported, the fired prosecutors won't pursue any further legal action against Flaherty, and in filing for a final dismissal "with prejudice," they also indicate the payment is not an admission of liability by Flaherty.

However, the former prosecutors still can attempt to recover lost wages and other damages from the county, which paid their salaries, and commissioners. They plan to appeal the county's and commissioners' dismissal from the lawsuit, Altschul said.

Here's the full statement released late Monday by Flaherty:

DA Responds to State Settlement of Lawsuit

State law requires the attorney general to defend suits such as those brought by my predecessor's former employees.

The decision to settle this completely meritless lawsuit was made solely by the attorney general's office over my strong objection. If state law allowed me to control this case, we would have taken it to trial and prevailed.                             

The elected district attorney alone has the authority to decide who will and who will not be appointed to serve as deputy district attorneys.

No attorney, and certainly none of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, is entitled to an appointment that gives them a great deal of power in carrying out the policies of the district attorney.

There are a number of reasons why I did not appoint the plaintiffs, many of which have been recited in court documents filed in relation to the lawsuit.

The discovery produced over the past several months concerning my predecessor's former employees did nothing but further ratify the soundness of my decision not to appoint them to represent the people of Deschutes County.  

Matters of honesty and competence cannot be set aside when considering whom to appoint, merely out of fear of a lawsuit.

All too often nowadays, decisions like this are driven by fear of litigation, rather than principle. That reasoning is deeply flawed in cases, such as this, where fundamental principles of good government should control the outcome.

By throwing money at meritless lawsuits, state government is only encouraging more of the same.

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