County Commissioners spend nearly $90,000 in one month to fight lawsuit

County’s insurer refuses to pay legal bill

OKANOGAN – Okanogan County Commissioners spent nearly $90,000 for one month of legal services to defend their refusal to pay the Court Administrator compensation set by Superior Court Judges Christopher Culp and Hank Rawson, according to official county documents.

The documents were obtained under a public records requests by Vreeland Law, which is handling the case for the judges and Court Administrator Dennis Rabidou. That amount for one month of legal services far exceeds the total salary increase that the Superior Court judges agreed to pay their Administrator, Rabidou, over the course of four years, writes Victoria L. Vreeland in a recent press release.

The Superior Court and its Administrator brought the lawsuit in late June after their efforts since August 2015 to get the Commissioners to resolve the matter proved futile. The Washington Counties Risk Pool (WCRP) refused to provide the defense for the county and the commissioners, leaving the defendants without insurance coverage for their costs and attorneys’ fees or for payment of any judgment against the defendants. Instead of relying on its legal counsel from Yakima who had been covering the matter prior to suit, the Okanogan County Commissioners hired a very expensive, international law firm, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, with offices around the world and in Seattle, according to Vreeland Law.

“The Pool does not consider the determination of Okanogan County and its three Commissioners to deliberately not pay Rabidou the salary the Superior Court agreed to pay him an accident. Therefore, the alleged liability for damages falling within the definitions of bodily injury or errors and omissions was not caused by an occurrence and the Pool has no duty to defend Okanogan County and its Commissioners against the allegations in this lawsuit,” writes Susan Looker for the Washington Counties Risk Pool’s rejection of the insurance claim.

“Because the remaining claims all seek equitable relief, the Pool has determined that it has no duty to defend Okanogan County in this matter,” further writes Looker, adding that the county has the right to appeal the WCRP’s decision.

The public records show that the attorneys hired by the County Commissioners have charged $87,670.42 for work for one month – up to July 31, 2016 – with hourly rates at $728, $608, and $480.

“Because of Mr. Rabidou’s abilities, he has been performing two major, full-time positions for the Superior Court for several years, saving thousands of taxpayer dollars,” writes attorney Vreeland. “Regardless, the Commissioners improperly instructed the County Auditor not to provide the funds already allocated to the Court in its 2015 budget to pay the salary the Court agreed to pay Mr. Rabidou.”

Rabidou seeks recovery of all damages allowed by law including wrongfully withheld wages, double damages, litigation expenses and costs and attorneys’ fees. The Superior Court seeks court orders mandating that defendants pay the salary to Mr. Rabidou and declaring that defendants do not have the legal authority and shall not interfere with the Superior Court’s management and administration.