Yet a fourth lawsuit has suddenly bloomed in the midst of the City of Medina's fertile battle over its fired police chief, this one filed by Donna Hanson, city manager of the wealthy Eastside enclave, against Sue Rahr, the about-to-retire (tomorrow) Sheriff of King County. Hanson last week obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent Rahr from disclosing records of an investigator's "mental impressions" about ex-Medina chief Jeff Chen, who is suing the city for civil rights violations.
Prepared by Seattle attorney Michael Bolasina, it's a study of archived e-mail messages and what role Chen may have had in accessing them before he was fired last year for dishonesty and other causes. The report was completed at the request of city officials who suspected the chief had read some e-mails without authorization.
Chen, who filed a $12 million lawsuit against Medina in December and recently was granted approval to proceed to trial next year, earlier filed a separate court action seeking the Bolasina report as well as a second report, done by private investigator Ellen Lenhart, that was also used as a basis by the city for firing the chief last April.
Medina officials have steadfastly refused to fork over the reports, turning down public record requests and fighting records-seekers in court - even though much of the reports' contents are known to Chen and others, and have been read by members of the city's council.
The Bolasina report is also being sought in a separate suit by ex-city council member Shawn Whitney, a Chen supporter who notes that council members were allowed to read the report but had to return all copies to the city afterward. (After filing the suit, Whitney was informally censured by the council and stripped of her Deputy Mayor title).
Her lawsuit continues, as do both of Chen's suits. But, apparently having learned the sheriff's office may have a copy of the Bolasina report or at least related documents, Whitney submitted a public records request to Rahr's office.
A sheriff's official notified Medina last month of the request by Whitney, acknowledging that "one of our detectives is assigned to a federal task force and received some documents related" to the Chen investigation. The documents would be released, the official said, unless Medina challenged such a move.
It did. Last week, Medina's attorney Jeff Meyers filed suit in King County Superior Court on behalf of city manager Hanson, who fired Chen, and immediately obtained a temporary restraining order, stating release of Bolasina's "confidential work product" by Sheriff Rahr "would not be in the public's interest and would impair the city's defense of the [civil rights] lawsuit by Mr. Chen."
It's still not clear if the sheriff has the Bolasina report (attorney Meyers says the material Whitney is seeking "may" include that report). Those who've read it say it essentially concludes that Chen may have violated e-mail policy and lied about it. Says an attorney familiar with the report, "It's not so much what it says, but that Chen needs a copy so he can enter it into evidence in his fight with the city."
But it could be the sheriff's office has other details to offer within its records. As Meyers says in his lawsuit to stop disclosure, "Specifically, the city objects to [release of] e-mail communications between attorney Bolasina and Detective William Marik on February 2 through February 7, 2011...which [contains] analysis and mental impressions of material that Bolasina gathered in anticipation of future litigation with former City of Medina employee, Chief Jeff Chen."
Meyers also refers to the information Bolasina exchanged with Marik as containing allegations "of possible criminal conduct."
That seems to hint at material that goes beyond the Bolasina report. Stay tuned; more hearings are slated in all four cases.