The late Phil Knudsen’s lawsuit against his former employer, the City of Tacoma, is over for the moment.
U.S. District Court Judge Franklin Burgess on Monday dismissed Knudsen’s claims against the city. The judge’s five-page order grants the city’s motion for summary judgment and ends the prospect of a jury trial that was scheduled for next year.
Knudsen’s attorneys plan to appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals – a step below the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Justice requires it,” said Ben Barcus, one of Knudsen’s attorneys. City attorney Elizabeth Pauli could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Knudsen died in August. His wife, Nancy, pursued the claim he initially filed in 2004, following his firing by then-City Manager Jim Walton.
Among other assertions, Knudsen claimed he was fired because of his role in the David Brame scandal. On April 25, 2003, while serving as the city’s human resources director, Knudsen met with members of the city’s legal department to discuss media accounts of Police Chief Brame’s contentious divorce.
The next day, Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself. The fallout led to multiple investigations of city and police department officials.
Knudsen later said that he and assistant director Mary Brown suggested placing Brame on administrative leave during the April 25 meeting. The city’s attorneys disagree with that account.
The heart of Knudsen’s claim rested on the theory that city leaders conspired to ostracize and fire him for speaking publicly about the meeting, thereby depriving him of his right to free speech.
In court documents, the city argued that Knudsen was fired for incompetence and tampering with hiring procedures.
Burgess’s order states that Knudsen’s attorneys failed to meet the burden of proof.
“Knudsen’s contentions that the City Council Defendants and the City Attorney set in motion a series of events that led to his termination falls far short of the quality and sufficiency of evidence required for civil conspiracy,” the order states.
If filed, an appeal to the 9th Circuit would create several possible outcomes. The court could affirm the lower court’s ruling, reverse it, or offer a mix, affirming some elements and rejecting others.
“There’s plenty of things to talk about in front of a jury,” said Paul Lindenmuth, Knudsen’s attorney. “That’s why they have appeals courts.”
Sean Robinson 597-8486