Former County Attorney Files Whistleblower Suit

A former county attorney has filed an intent to sue Lane County for wrongful termination, retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights for speaking out on matters of public concern and for whistleblowing. A tort claim notice letter that was hand-delivered to County Counsel (and District Attorney) Alex Gardner Oct. 29 says that Marc Kardell was fired after he raised concerns about misuse of county funds and the actions of County Administrator Liane Richardson that were causing “a multitude of problems” within the county.

Kardell, whose cases for the county as part of the Land Management Division (LMD) included representing it against controversial Parvin Butte miner Greg Demers, also filed a complaint on Nov. 14 against the county in Lane County Circuit Court for not responding to a public records request and failure to respond to a request for a personnel record in a timely manner. 

Kardell’s tort claim notice says that when he raised concerns about the way Richardson and others were conducting county business, “particularly the multiple investigations that lacked legitimate bases and were costing the taxpayers actual dollars as well as lost productivity and loss of county personnel, he was summarily escorted out the door with no notice under the guise of a ‘layoff.’” 

Richardson spent at least $24,000 in investigations against progressive commissioners Pete Sorenson and Rob Handy. Her allegations against the commissioners, which included voting against her, talking to the media and in Handy’s case, having negative body language and facial expressions, were deemed unfounded by an outside investigator.

The tort claim notice letter from Kardell’s attorney Margaret Wilson says that on April 6, 2012, Richardson chastised him for offering to contribute to a gift for the departing county information officer, Amber Fossen. County emails obtained by EW support this allegation. Also around April 6, Kardell emailed the county board chair, per county policy, about an “inappropriate comment” made to him by one of Richardson’s staff members. 

On April 11, Gardner informed Kardell that the county would be investigating him for reasons including Richardson no longer wanting him “to perform work for her office.”

Gardner himself is also implicated in the document. The letter says that at one point Gardner intervened and prevented Kardell from refusing a 5 percent step increase in pay. The letter says Kardell refused the increase because of the county’s financial difficulties. The refusal was approved by Human Resources, but Gardner blocked it “opining that Mr. Kardell simply wanted to ‘look good’ in front of the Board of Commissioners.” Kardell then donated what he estimated would be the net pay raise, $3,100, to the county. 

The letter also addresses Kardell’s communication to the county board and Gardner in regard to budget issues surrounding the employment of another attorney in the office, Stephen Vorhes. Kardell’s email, written from his private account and on a day off work, expressed concern over cuts in LMD and asked the board to wait on a six-month review of the department before changing the status of “valuable members of the office.” Vorhes, who in the past had served as acting county counsel, was apparently asked to retire. Attorneys and members of the public wrote the county opposing the cuts.

The public records suit is requesting documentation from the county supporting the reasons for Kardell’s lay off. Kardell has been asking for the records since early September, the suit says. 

When asked for comment on the case, the county responded, “It’s Lane County’s long-standing practice not to discuss either litigation that has been filed, potential litigation that may be filed or personnel matters. Any response by county will be as part of legal proceedings or the appropriate personnel hearing or arbitration.”