Politics & Government

Judge dismisses most claims brought by fired state House GOP workers in 2011 staffing purge

A judge has thrown out most claims brought by three former state House Republican staff members who claimed their refusal to do campaign work figured into their abrupt dismissals in a June 2011 purge, according to attorneys involved in the case.

Age discrimination claims from two of the three plaintiffs can still go to trial in September.

That is the gist of a recent oral ruling from Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller, said Mark Jobson, an assistant state attorney general.

Jobson is defending the House and Republican Caucus administrators including former Republican leader Richard DeBolt against claims brought by John S. (Jack) Archer, John Charba and William Engelhardt, who was also known as Bill Taylor.

“We’re pleased. I think the judge was very, very surgical in her analysis. She did an excellent job of addressing each of the claims separately,” Jobson said. “We’re satisfied with the result.”

Steven Lacy, lawyer for the plaintiffs, could not be reached to comment. A staff member in Lacy’s East Wenatchee law office said he was out until Wednesday.

Until a court order is entered, Jobson said, “nothing officially has taken place.” But he said four of five claims from Archer and Charba were dismissed. All of Engelhardt’s claims were rejected, Jobson said.

The plaintiffs had sought $500,000 each in tort claims that preceded the suit. Among multiple claims, they alleged they were fired because they had not worked on members’ 2010 campaigns or joined their fundraisers.

The firings were described initially by House Republican leaders as a staff restructuring that dismissed four employees, one of whom chose not to sue.

A trial is scheduled to begin the week of Sept. 29, but House Chief Clerk Barbara Baker said mediation scheduled for Sept. 17 could help settle the case out of court.

She said her office will confer with House leaders from both parties before making final decisions on the process.

“I think if we go to trial on age discrimination we’ll win ... But it may cost more to go to trial than settle,’’ Baker said Friday. “I believe the firings were mishandled ... It was not particularly humane.”

DeBolt, R-Chehalis, stepped down as leader for health reasons last year and two other managers named in the suit — former caucus staff director John Rothlin and staffer Troy Nichols — no longer work there.