The City of Mercer Island vs. Lindell case , but the facts of the case are far from settled, based on a letter read into the public record at Mercer Island City Council's Oct. 17 public meeting.
Deputy Mayor El Jahncke announced the receipt of a letter from the city's defense attorneys in the case at the end of the meeting at Monday night, and read from a list of "facts" about the litigation brought by former City Attorney and Deputy City Manager Londi Lindell.
"This letter is something we've all been looking for for months," said Jahncke, who was reached by phone this afternoon. "There's been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, and absolute distortion of the facts in this case."
Without preface or explanation, the letter from attorney Stephanie R. Alexander of Michael & Alexander simply lists 20 observations from the city's defense attorneys in the case (see the letter by clicking on the pdf documents window above). The series of statements addresses both the merits of the litigation brought by Lindell and the Public Record Act claims made against the city.
"The Court ultimately reversed a portion of its initial ruling and determined that some of those documents were not privileged," stated the letter. "Penalties continued to accrue during the exceptionally long period that the plaintiff’s Public Records Act claims were pending before the court."
The letter fails to mention, however, that U.S. District Judge ruled the city had waived attorney-client privilege regarding those same documents and then failed to disclose that to Lindell. and release those documents "reckless, negligent, wanton or intentional non-compliance" with the Public Records Act (see the decision by clicking on the pdf documents window above). The judge also made an additional finding that the city could not withhold the documents under a separate legal doctrine that protects legal work performed in anticipation of litigation, called the "work-product docrine".
The letter — addressed to Jahncke and Mercer Island Mayor Jim Pearman — appears to be a response to claims made by fellow councilmembers Mike Grady and Mike Cero. The pair in August requesting a performance review of City Manager Rich Conrad based on their views of the case (see the letter by clicking on the pdf documents window above).
"I didn't like it at all," Cero said. "There's enough ambiguity in all the facts to be critical."
When asked why the letter from Michael & Alexander was written and addressed to him and Mayor Pearman, Jahncke demurred.
"That's a good question," he said. "I wish I had an answer for you."
Lindell was dismissed by the city in 2008 and filed a grievance in federal court, eventually settling the retaliation, sexual harassment and discrimination case for $1 million. The city was also fined approximately $200,000 for illegally withholding documents under the public records act.
Reached by phone, Lindell expressed disappointment in what she viewed as "defamatory statements."
"I implore the City to move forward and allow me to move forward with my life," Lindell said. "I very much want to work again and these defamatory statements are exactly the type of conduct that caused me to file my lawsuit in the first place."
Specifically, she disputed several of the claims sent in an email to Mercer Island Patch. Her statement, unedited, follows below:
- "I am saddened that the City has been unable to move forward following the resolution of my litigation. After being a successful City Attorney for over 16 years, filing the lawsuit was one of the hardest personal and professional decisions I have ever made. I still have great respect and regard for the citizens of Mercer Island and the majority of City staff and Council.
- You have asked me to comment on a letter dated October 17, 2011 that you advised me was read into the public record last night. I am committed to moving forward with my life so I will decline to comment on each of the bullets set forth in the letter. I believe the federal litigation record speaks for itself and is available to you and your readers to ascertain the veracity of the claims in this letter. I also am confident in the intelligence of the citizens of Mercer Island who can reach their own conclusion as to whether or not my lawsuit had merit when my administrative claim for damages requested $1 million dollars and this was the amount I was paid to dismiss my lawsuit.
- Unfortunately, the City's lawyers made false and potentially defamatory statements about me that I am compelled to rebut. The City claims I made "false" statements about the Director of HR flashing her genitalia. My complaint was regarding the inappropriate joking that occurred following this incident. I never opined whether or not the detective actually saw her genitalia. I reported this joking to the independent investigator when I was asked about the incident. If you review the court record and Ms. Reed's witness statements, you will see Mr. Conrad, Joy Johnston, Leslie Burns, Katie Knight and others also reported the joking including that one of the HR Director's subordinates brought a pair of panties and a toupee to work to represent the HR Director's missing underwear and in response to joking about her Brazilian wax. The court record also shows that this joking continued for months with City Attorney Knight sending an email of a scantily clad female with her legs spread eagled on a desk suggesting to the HR Director that this is how she should conduct exit interviews in the future. I had an obligation to report this conduct to Ms. Reed when I was asked questions about the working environment at the City and I was concerned that this conduct was not appropriate in a professional workplace.
- It was never "established in the case" that I "destroyed documents that the City was entitled to receive". As an officer of the court, I would never destroy records relevant to any litigation. Again the court record and the transcript of the evidentiary hearing makes clear that I took my computer into a computer repair company because my children had downloaded a virus. In removing the virus, PC Doctor was required to remove "temporary internet files" (a computer users' search history for the last 90 days, not "documents").
- In closing, I implore the City to move forward and allow me to move forward with my life. I very much want to work again and these defamatory statements are exactly the type of conduct that caused me to file my lawsuit in the first place. When the City disparages me, it not only puts the City at risk of future tort claims, but it does not allow this matter to be closed."
(Ed Note: This story was updated to properly attribute Judge Robart's ruling on the city's reasons for non-disclosure of records pertaining to the Segle Investigation, which are referred to by the Michael & Alexander letter.)