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Local Brou-ha-ha

Lane County Commissioner Rob Handy is accusing three fellow commissioners of violating his constitutional rights and deliberately undermining his May re-election effort in the latest in a series of legal actions against the county.

Handy’s attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal district court this week accusing the county, three commissioners and the county administrator of violating his rights to free speech, due process and equal protection as well as violations of the state open meetings law. The suit seeks unspecified damages and legal fees.

The suit is the third legal action filed by Handy against the county and Commissioners Sid Leiken, Jay Bozievich and Faye Stewart. Two previous suits filed in state circuit court allege violations of the public records law and the open meetings law.

In e-mailed comments Tuesday, Handy said he feels the federal lawsuit is needed to move the dispute into a neutral court.

“I am concerned about the complete politicization of Lane County government by the conservative majority in conjunction with their appointed county administrator,” he wrote. “This politicization has led to a two-tiered government in which the three commissioners and county administrator have one set of communications and procedures for themselves and another for the two other commissioners on the board.

“It is clear that an outside force needs to give some perspective to the board majority and their appointed administrator about the political and personal retaliation that has resulted.”

Stewart and Bozievich said in e-mails that they can’t comment on pending litigation. Leiken did not respond individually, but a spokeswoman said no county officials have seen the latest suit or been served with notices and that any response will be made in court.

The county recently filed a motion asking a court to strike the state lawsuit charging violations of the public meeting law. It claims that such a suit is not allowed because it only seeks to chill the three commissioners’ First Amendment rights.

Alleges smear campaign

The suits all stem from actions taken by the county in the wake of a letter received in early May and written by Eugene attorney Alan Thayer, alleging that Handy misused his office for personal gain, violated election laws and exceeded limits on gifts to public officials. They were revealed in the midst of the spring primary campaign after voters had received their mail-in ballots.

Handy flatly denied the charges and accused political opponents of a smear campaign timed to prevent him from clearing his name before votes were counted. Handy subsequently lost by a wide margin to challenger Pat Farr, who will take over the North Eugene seat on the county board in January.

The charges, which remain under investigation, set off a cascade of claims and counterclaims and have led to an almost unprecedented level of internecine conflict among sitting commissioners and county officials. The latest lawsuit takes the conflict to a new level.

The first state lawsuit charges that the county and commissioners failed to turn over public records on the matter requested by Handy’s attorney. The second one accuses the three commissioners of conducting an improper emergency meeting on May 3 in which the Thayer accusations were discussed and Leiken, Bozievich and Stewart voted to release the letter outlining them to the public.

The federal lawsuit draws a direct connection between those alleged actions and Handy’s loss in the May primary. It claims that the meeting and decision to release the Thayer letter were deliberately designed to interfere with Handy’s re-election campaign “by making charges against him that carry the stigma of moral turpitude, such as dishonesty or immorality,” violating Handy’s due process rights.

Also, the suit says Handy has had “numerous rancorous disagreements” with County Administrator Liane Richardson, who is named as a defendant in the suit along with the three commissioners, because of Handy’s positions on various issues. It says similar disagreements occurred with Leiken, Bozievich and Stewart.

The suit claims that actions taken by Richardson and the three commissioners in response to the Thayer letter were retaliation for those disagreements and therefore violated Handy’s First Amendment rights to free speech.

Locked out of office

The emergency meeting and a concurrent decision to lock Handy out of his county office figure prominently in the federal suit. It claims that further investigation prior to a trial is likely to reveal evidence that the defendants held private meetings to discuss public business, deliberated in private toward decisions regarding Handy, did not provide proper notice of private meetings and did not take proper minutes of the private meetings.

Both the emergency meeting and lockout have been sore spots. The county sent out notice of the meeting to media, all five commissioners and others about two hours in advance, and the meeting was recorded on video and is available for viewing on the commissioners’ website.

In the weeks after the Thayer letter was released, the county also released a large volume of e-mails and documents relating to the Handy case that were the subject of public records requests. Those documents show that Richardson exchanged e-mails with the three commissioners discussing their concerns about the Thayer letter on the day before the meeting was held.

Those e-mails did not go to Handy or Sorenson. In other court documents, the county states that Richardson contacted Leiken and Bozievich because they are the board agenda committee and also that she communicated with three commissioners to determine whether a majority of board members could attend an emergency meeting

Handy was locked out of his office while investigators from the state Department of Justice conducted an initial investigation of the Thayer allegations. He also was cut off from the county’s computer system.

But, according to the county e-mails, Richardson quickly arranged for Handy to work out of another office and set up another computer with a new e-mail address to allow him to continue to carry out his work as a commissioner. But he was only given access to the county’s Public Service Building, where county offices are located, during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Handy and other commissioners often work outside of those hours.

Handy was given a key to his old office on July 30, records show, but he still remains limited to weekday access. However, the commissioners recently voted to restrict all of them to the same access limits as Handy.

The county says it restricts Handy’s building access because the commissioners share general office space with the county attorney and his staff. That includes open areas where legal staff members work and where documents are prepared and stored.

That creates the delicate and unusual situation of essentially giving Handy access to the legal offices of the people he is suing. E-mails released by the county say Handy’s access was restricted in part “to protect the commissioner against any allegation/claim/implication of impropriety” involving access to the county attorney’s work space.

Seeks personal liability

The federal lawsuit, however, says that reasoning is neither rational nor permissible. It also points out that for two weeks in May, between the time the state said it had no position on whether Handy had access to his office and the filing of the first state lawsuit, there was no reason for Handy to be barred from the office.

In the back-and-forth communications between county attorneys and Handy’s attorney, the county also claimed that Handy had previously asked numerous times to be moved to a different office. That followed the settlement of another rancorous legal issue, a lawsuit filed by former commissioner Ellie Dumdi charging the commissioners with violating public meetings law during discussions of the 2009-10 county budget.

A judge subsequently found that the county had violated the law and ordered Handy and Sorenson to pay judgments of $20,000 each. County e-mails state that after that suit was settled last year, Handy asked to be moved away from the county administration area because he was uncomfortable being around county employees who had testified in the Dumdi case.

The $20,000 debt figures into the current controversy because it is the source of some of the accusations against Handy in the Thayer letter. Thayer charged that Handy improperly sought public donations to help him retire the debt.

Notably, in the federal lawsuit, Handy seeks to hold the three commissioners and Richardson individually liable for any damages the court awards. If the suit is decided in Handy’s favor, that could potentially saddle them with the same kind of debt imposed on Handy.

Last edited by RWebb; 08-29-2012 at 02:49 PM..
Old 08-29-2012, 02:47 PM
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and someone cares?

More interesting is the water dept up there that won't let that guy keep his lakes. They want him to drain them and waste the water. Now there is a problem.
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Old 08-29-2012, 02:52 PM
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Boy that sure is a lot to read.
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Old 08-29-2012, 03:23 PM
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Bland
 
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do you guys side with the 2 ?

or with the 3?

I cut down the article a bit BYW - turns out that the 3 got Handy (one of the 2) sued for a highly technical meetings law violation - but that isn't in this article
Old 08-29-2012, 04:04 PM
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