As conspiracies go, it’s a big one, according to Albert Ugas, Pierce County’s deputy assessor-treasurer.
He’s banged his head against it for four years to no avail. Now he wants to get paid for his bruises. County officials say that’s not likely.
Ugas, the right hand of outgoing Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam, has filed a claim for damages against the county, alleging that various leaders conspired to silence him and retaliate against him for reporting acts of wrongdoing.
“The damages are not confined to this location, but transcend Pierce County, to the state of Washington and beyond,” states the claim, filed last week.
The claim documents span 482 pages: a 15-page declaration, plus 49 attachments.
Ugas, a 15-year county employee, says he’s seeking $1 to start, plus additional damages that would compare to those awarded by juries in cases of defamation, fraud, malicious prosecution and attorney malfeasance, among other things. He adds that he reserves the right to file additional actions in the future.
Mark Maenhout, the county’s risk manager, pronounced the claim dead on arrival.
“There is no way that Albert Ugas is getting any money from the county,” Maenhout said. “He owes the county a lot of money.”
Asked for comment Wednesday, Ugas responded via email. Saying he could not expect balanced treatment from The News Tribune, he said his claim represents “an issue of serious importance to all Pierce County citizens. I am certainly willing and indeed anxious to participate in open and frank discussions of these issues, but this dialogue would certainly have to go beyond just you and me.”
He lists his attorney as Stephen Pidgeon, an Everett lawyer who mounted an unsuccessful campaign this year for state attorney general. Pidgeon lost in the primary, garnering about 10 percent of the vote.
Pidgeon did not respond to a voice mail message left Wednesday at his listed telephone number.
Ugas’s claim rehashes numerous accusations and allegations that he and Washam leveled against the county through the course of Washam’s tenure.
At its core, the long-running dispute revolves around property-assessment methods under Washam’s predecessor, who used computer-modeled data to appraise some properties, instead of the physical inspections required by state law.
State records show the assessments met or exceeded international standards of accuracy, but Washam and Ugas contended that the approach equated to falsification and forgery of county records. They repeatedly sought a criminal investigation of the practice, but local and state officials declined to pursue it, saying it was wasteful and unnecessary.
The dispute spawned strife within the assessor’s office. Washam and Ugas accused multiple employees of criminal acts. The employees filed complaints of retaliation and harassment, which led to multiple internal investigations of Washam’s office.
The investigations concluded that Washam and Ugas retaliated against the employees who complained. Ultimately, the employees filed five claims for damages. The county eventually settled the claims for a total of $1.13 million. Related legal costs added another $412,000.
The new claim from Ugas refers to those settlements, saying they were wrongfully granted. Ugas adds that county leaders engaged in a systematic effort to suppress his complaints.
While Ugas alleges supression, records of Washam’s tenure show the complaints were widely and repeatedly publicized, and shared with numerous county and state officials via correspondence from Washam and Ugas.
“Because the revelations were deemed too dangerous, defendant (the county) actively sought to discourage claimants’ reporting of wrong doing through the manipulation of labor conditions at the Assessor-Treasurer office and by engaging in ad-hominem defamatory attacks against claimant,” the claim states.
Ugas also refers to his unsuccessful attempt to recall county Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, one of the officials who declined to pursue the investigation Ugas and Washam sought.
The recall was thrown out of court, deemed as frivolous. The Washington State Supreme Court later upheld that ruling, and tacked on an award of attorney fees to Lindquist: $95,709.
Since then, the county has been garnishing Ugas’s county wages to pay off the attorney-fee debt – roughly $3,000 per month, according to records.
That money will likely run dry at the end of this year. Ugas works for Washam as an at-will appointee. Washam failed in his bid for re-election last summer, finishing fourth in a five-way primary.
His successor, Mike Lonergan, won the general election this month. Lonergan takes office in January. He’ll have the authority to appoint two employees: an administrative assistant and a chief deputy, the position Ugas now holds.
Wednesday, Lonergan said Ugas won’t serve in the new administration.
“He was an at-will appointee of my predecessor,” Lonergan said. “So my understanding is his service would end with Dale Washam’s end of term.”
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486