Pierce County owes fired deputy prosecutor Barbara Corey $3,075,170.
That was the ruling Friday morning from a King County jury, which found that the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office wrongfully terminated Corey, a veteran prosecutor, and defamed her reputation in 2004.
Jurors also found that the office acted maliciously and with a reckless disregard for the truth in terminating its then-No. 3 in command.
Mike Panagiotu, longtime director of Pierce County’s Risk Management and Insurance Department, said he couldn’t recall the county losing an employment case by way of a jury’s verdict. In his 32 years with the county, Panagiotu said, he’s seen the county win several cases.
The ruling brought elation from one side and shock and disappointment from the other in the hotly contested civil suit.
Corey, who now works as a criminal defense and appellate attorney in Pierce County, was grateful to the jurors.
“I couldn’t be happier and more thankful,” she said. “I hope to put this behind me somehow.”
Added Corey’s attorney, personal injury specialist Jack Connelly: “I am very pleased with (the verdict) and very proud of Barbara for taking this case to the jury.”
Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Gerald Horne said he was disappointed but stuck by his termination of Corey.
“I felt I did the best thing when I fired Barbara, the best thing for this office and for the community,” said Horne, who was appointed prosecutor in 2000 and ran unopposed in 2002 and 2006. “This experience doesn’t change that.”
John Miller and Sandra Bobrick, two private attorneys who represented the county, said they were evaluating the ruling and will explore their options, including an appeal.
“I don’t think justice was done,” Miller said.
The verdict followed 11 days of testimony during which the two sides accused each other of lying.
Connelly contended Horne abused the power of his office to settle a “personal vendetta” with Corey and fired her without just cause.
He forced her out after a controversial personnel move went sideways and he disparaged her in the media in an attempt to ruin her career, Connelly argued during closing arguments earlier this week.
Connelly also alleged that Horne manufactured a criminal investigation into how Corey handled or mishandled donations for employees who were going through personal problems. No criminal charges were ever filed against her.
The county countered that Corey told a “bundle of lies” in January 2004 after she initiated the transfer of a fellow attorney to another department – a move that angered many of her colleagues.
She called everyone else a liar, Bobrick said during closing statements.
Horne also was within his rights to fire Corey, according to Bobrick, because she was an at-will employee. He didn’t tell the press anything that wasn’t true, Bobrick told the jurors.
The jury received the case Wednesday afternoon and delivered its verdict in a Seattle courtroom Friday morning. Jurors found for Corey on all her claims, ruling that:
• The Prosecutor’s Office negligently disseminated confidential investigatory information.
• The office engaged in malicious and reckless conduct and defamed Corey directly and by implication.
• The office placed Corey in a false light before the public.
• The office intentionally disclosed information and its conduct was outrageous.
• The office wrongfully terminated Corey.
Connelly said the jury’s findings were significant.
“This is an office that stepped outside of its proper role as a prosecutor’s office,” he said Friday. “A jury saw that they were making a number of defenses that were false.”
The county’s deductible would cover the first $2 million of the verdict and its own attorney costs.
Before the start of the trial, the county’s attorneys and experts fees totaled $240,000, Panagiotu said. The cost is expected to increase another $150,000 to $200,000.
The deductible would be paid out of the county’s self-insurance fund.
The remainder of the verdict would be paid by its insurance carrier, Panagiotu said.
County staff members plan to meet Monday to discuss their next step.
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268
JURY AWARD FOR BARBARA COREY
• $1.5 million for the damage to her reputation
• $750,000 for non-economic damages
• $700,176 for economic damages related to the defamation and false light claims
• $124,994 for loss of wages because of her wrongful termination