An Idaho district judge ordered Ada County to pay all of a whistleblower’s legal expenses, adding more than $664,000 to the $1.74 million the judge ordered the county to pay the whistleblower in March.
Rich Wright, formerly a television journalist and Boise Police Department spokesman, sued Ada County, Idaho, in February 2013, alleging he was fired in retaliation for ordering an investigation of harassment complaints raised by some county employees about a commissioner’s office manager, and other alleged misconduct, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Mr. Wright’s lawsuit claims he was fired the day after two newly elected county commissioners were sworn in. The commissioner’s office manager in question, who subsequently resigned, had campaigned for the newly elected commissioner who fired Mr. Wright, the whistleblower complaint alleged.
Mr. Wright said he was told that there were no problems with his performance on the job and that his position was being eliminated as part of a reorganization, but he was the only person whose job had been axed, he alleged.
A district judge had dismissed the case in January 2015, ruling that Idaho’s Whistleblower Act did not cover Mr. Wright’s claims. The Idaho Supreme Court upheld part of that ruling but remanded other parts of it back to trial court, the Statesman reported.
The trial lasted for one week and the jury deliberated for two hours before returning a verdict against the County, ordering it to pay Mr. Wright $1.74 million.
“After the verdict, the county asked District Judge Kathryn A. Stricklen to issue her own verdict or order a new trial,” the Statesman reported. “The county also asked the court not to make it pay Wright’s legal fees. Judge Stricklen denied all of the county’s motions.”
“It is quite clear that both Case and Tibbs were acting together, and that their conduct was highly unusual,” Judge Stricklen wrote. “Not one witness criticized Wright’s performance. The Court does believe that the verdict for Wright was in accord with the clear weight of the totality of the evidence.”
The County will now have to pay Mr. Wright’s $664,527 legal bill on top of $325,700 in legal fees it has spent defending itself in the case. On top of the $1.74 million it was ordered to compensate Mr. Wright, the county’s total expenses amount to more than $2.7 million.
“Like the jury in my case, Judge Stricklen got it right,” Mr. Wright told the Statesman. “I would hope the commissioners would stop wasting taxpayer dollars defending their wrongful actions when what they did to me has already been determined to have been in violation of Idaho law.
“They weren’t good stewards of the public’s trust when they retaliated against me and fired me for doing my job, and they haven’t been good stewards of taxpayers dollars by wasting public funds to defend their indefensible actions,” Mr. Wright told the Statesman.