City Hall clearly does not want to go to trial over the "shitstorm," as Fire Chief Greg Dean termed it, that erupted in the wake of a department corruption scandal and a whistleblower's lawsuit. The city just three weeks ago tried and failed to get the lawsuit by former Deputy Chief (now Battalion Chief) Jim Woodbury, tossed out. But a county judge ruled the case can go to trial over Woodbury's claims he was demoted by Dean for blowing the whistle. Now city attorneys contend the court lacks jurisdiction to even hear the dispute.
Woodbury, one of the senior members of the fire marshall's staff who objected to Dean's refusal for more severe punishment, filed a complaint in October 2008 about the Footer incident with the city's Ethics and Elections Commission. The EEC issued a scathing report last year that erupted into headlines. Last June, Woodbury filed his lawsuit, claiming he was demoted for speaking out. A judge recently allowed the suit to go forward.
But on Friday, city attorneys filed yet another motion to dismiss the case, claiming the court lacks jurisdiction. Woodbury, says assistant city attorney Erin Overbey, "has not completed the adjudicative process he initiated with the Office of Administration Hearings in 2009. Until he does so, there is no jurisdiction in this court." The city's motion, with exhibits, runs 66 pages. A hearing is set for this Friday.
Seattle Fire Fighters union leader Kenny Stuart says the city's actions are the result of pressure from its insurance carrier to play hardball with fire department personnel. Most recently, the city lost its attempt to rehear the case of disabled Seattle firefighter Mark Jones. He was awarded $12.8 million by a jury last year, but the city's insurer produced a video showing Jones chopping wood and dancing, claiming he faked his injuries.
"The insurance company doesn't want to pay, which to me is sickening," says Stuart, "and the city has to go along with the challenge or it could end up paying the whole amount."