PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Three deputy district attorneys say the district attorney fired them because they tried to organize a union. The fired prosecutors demand $20 million from Deschutes County and its District Attorney Patrick Flaherty.
Deschutes County, east of the Cascade Mountains in the Oregon desert, is the fastest-growing county in Oregon. Its county seat is Bend.
Plaintiffs Brentley Foster, Jody Vaughan and Phil Duong say that Flaherty told county officials he had a “hit list” of attorneys he wanted to fire after he was elected in May 2010. The plaintiffs add, in their federal complaint, that Flaherty previously had said in a Facebook post that firing any deputy attorney “would be the dumbest thing I could do.”
All three plaintiffs endorsed Flaherty’s opponent in the May 2010 election, 24-year incumbent District Attorney Mike Dugan. The campaign featured some bitter rhetoric from both sides.
Flaherty accused Dugan and his supporters of “fear mongering,” after Dugan suggested that Flaherty’s election “would create turmoil.”
After Flaherty was elected, deputy district attorneys mobilized to form a union, which was certified in September.
While the union was in the process of forming, Flaherty said he would fire Chief Deputy District Attorney Darryl Nakahira when he took office in January 2011, partially because Nakahira “failed to display sufficient loyalty,” according to the complaint.
The complaint adds: “Although Nakahira was a supervisor and not eligible to vote in the union, the timing and purpose of the public termination letter referencing Nakahira’s lack of loyalty was clear to those attorneys about to receive union ballots: vote for the union at your own risk.”
When asked about the union in September 2010, Flaherty told The Bend Bulletin that elections often result in significant staff turnover and rejected the idea that the attorneys “could protect their jobs via collective bargaining.”
In the months before he took office, the plaintiffs say, Flaherty tried to persuade the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners to reject the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
“Flaherty brazenly informed them that he planned on replacing four of the current DDAs – Nakahira, Anderson, Vaughan and Foster – even if the CBA was in place and even if doing so was a clear violation,” the complaint states.
The fired prosecutors also sued three County Commissioners, individually and in their official capacity: Alan Unger, Tammy Baney and Dennis Luke.
According to the complaint, at a Dec. 15 meeting, “Commissioner Unger expressed his belief that because Flaherty made it clear that he would violate the contract even if it was approved, the county was ‘looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs no matter what.’ But that he ‘would rather see it on the bottom side of a half-million dollars than on the top side,’ and felt that ratifying the contract now was in the best interest of the county.”
The attorneys say Flaherty asked the County Commission for more time before ratifying the contract, and that his “main intention was to buy time to start a decertification effort.”
The Commission agreed to delay the vote until Jan. 19.
“The Commissioners knew that delaying the vote would result in the termination of well-qualified and well-respected DDAs, which might not be permitted if they ratified the contract,” the complaint states.
Flaherty announced the firings in late December. The plaintiffs say they offered the defendants an opportunity to resolve their disputes via mediation, but Flaherty declined.
The fired prosecutors seek punitive damages for wrongful firing in violation of public policy, civil rights violations, breach of faith, sex discrimination, and intentional interference with economic relations. They are represented by Andrew Altschul with Buchanan Angeli Altschul & Sullivan, and Judy Snyder, both of Portland.