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Former Commissioner Rob Handy Settles Suit with Lane County

Former Lane County Commissioner Rob Handy announced in a press release today that he has settled two lawsuits against Lane County. Attorney Marianne Dugan says the settlement was for $89,000.

The lawsuits, in state and federal courts, addressed an emergency meeting of the Lane County Commission and a decision that was made to "lock Mr. Handy out of his office, email system, and other county systems during his last year in office."

The full press release is below, folowed by comment from the county.

On Monday, September 18th, former Commissioner Rob Handy and his constituent Brian McCall settled all lawsuits pending against Lane County, former County Administrator Liane Richardson and Commissioners Faye Stewart, Sid Leiken, and Jay Bozievich. The parties agreed to a global settlement of both federal and state lawsuits that were pending.

Mr. Handy’s and Mr. McCall’s federal civil rights case challenged the decision to lock Mr. Handy out of his office, email system, and other county systems during his last year in office. The state case challenged the county’s misuse of the Board of Commissioners’ “emergency meeting” provisions.

According to Rob Handy, “We originally filed these suits to bring attention to the politicization of the offices of the Lane County Commissioners and how those in power misused that power to further a political agenda. The three commissioners named in the lawsuit, while not all still in office, set a precedent of abusing their power and the concerns will always remain valid. We have been seeking access to justice and have now settled the cases because we believe we received the measure of justice that is possible through this process.”

Former Commissioner Rob Handy settled the lawsuits (which were filed against Lane County about five years ago) “Because I feel I met the goals I had for filing these suits and because Lane County is now under some different leadership that, with the changes in policies that they have made, seem to have learned from their mistakes and bad decisions of that time.

“When an elected Board of Commissioners turns into a political body where the majority acts with impunity and from a political agenda, it can leave no recourse to those who don’t have the votes to have a say or even the ability to place an item on an agenda or to speak out when not included in the work that the Commissioner was elected to do.

“In my last 18-months or so as an elected Lane County Commissioner, I was locked out of my office, locked out of the building, had my email removed as well as all my work product denied to me because a solid bloc of conservative commissioners saw that it moved their agenda forward.

“I worked within channels within Lane County government to redress these actions and got nowhere. This is why the courts exist – as a place of recourse when all other recourse is denied.

“I filed a state lawsuit to object to emergency meetings held where the conservative then- commissioners Stewart, Bozoveich, and Leiken, in collusion with then-County Administrator Liane Richardson held an emergency meeting where myself and Commissioner Sorenson received notice too late to attend and where there was actually no emergency at hand.

“I objected then and now to Lane County cherry-picking Commissioners for an emergency meeting in order to act quietly and with no scrutiny. Since I filed this lawsuit, Lane County has passed a new policy that requires all commissioners to receive all notices, equally and in a timely manner, using any and all means available to the County to contact and locate them before such a meeting convenes. I believe this policy regarding emergency meetings will ensure a similar inequitable treatment of commissioners won't occur in the future.

“Secondly, I filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, now also settled, to shine a light on politically-motivated behavior of the board majority, in collusion with the County Administrator at that time, and other staff. Again, there was no recourse to address these issues within the County. As a sitting commissioner, I was unable to place an item on a Board agenda, and each action was blocked by the majority. Even my good fiscal ideas, policy ideas, any ideas were summarily denied the light of day.”

Handy states, “The federal lawsuit was filed because I wanted to make sure that the County and its Commissioners knew that if those in a majority took action to interfere with a Commissioner’s ability to do his or her job, there would be consequences. This was vital to stand up for the commissioners to come who might also find themselves on the wrong side of a majority in this ‘bipartisan’ Board of Commissioners. I wanted to show that there is no impunity, there is no immunity – the County is not a kingdom where might makes right. We have the courts to help address abuse of power and assist in righting those wrongs. I am pleased to have finally resolved these two legal matters. We felt confident we would prevail in the end, but in the interest of moving forward after more than five years of waiting, we felt a settlement of these claims was the proper way to resolve them.

“We believe that by filing and resolving these lawsuits, no commissioner will again be locked out of an office and deprived of email and other connections to constituents. Elected officials must be able to carry out their work in an environment that is fair and includes due process and where decisions are transparent.” Handy states, “I believe my lawsuits met the goals I set out to achieve and that because of the light shed on these issues Lane County has already made some key policy changes and will not be discriminating against commissioners of the future simply because a transient board majority can. I am pleased with the results and also happy to be moving on.”

Constituent Brian McCall adds his comment: "This whole sorry incident of interfering with my commissioner’s ability to do his job by locking him out of his office and denying him access to his own work diminished what trust I once had in our county government and has exposed the partisan leanings of our supposedly unbiased local news media. I sincerely hope that the settlement of this conflict finally leads to healing, and to a restoration of at least some of that trust."

Local attorney Marianne Dugan represented former commissioner Handy in both the state and federal cases (and Mr. McCall in the federal case), and in the appeals to higher courts which reversed dismissals and required that these cases be heard and proceed to trial.

Lane County's response (bold in the orginal).

Mr. Handy brought a number of lawsuits dating back to 2012. The first was a public records lawsuit which the County won at trial. Mr. Handy brought a second lawsuit alleging a violation of public meetings law in State court. The County prevailed at the trial court level. Mr. Handy appealed and the case went before the Oregon State Court of Appeals and again Lane County prevailed.

Finally, Mr. Handy filed a third lawsuit in federal court. The case was initially dismissed. The case then moved between the Court of Appeals and the District Court. The County chose to settle this final lawsuit in order to save future litigation costs. The settlement agreement does not admit liability.