Vancouver to pay $75K to settle long legal battle

Woman claimed her rights were violated in easement dispute

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Vancouver will pay $75,000 to end a five-year legal battle with Kathy Marshack, who alleged police officers and other city employees violated her civil rights during a neighborhood trespassing dispute.

The city council approved the settlement Monday without comment after privately discussing it in executive session.

The case had been scheduled for a 15-day jury trial in November 2014 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

At one time, Marshack sought more than $7 million, but the amount went down as the case wore on. In an October filing by her attorney, Mick Seidl of Portland, damages were listed at $1.75 million.

The city admitted no wrongdoing. The settlement will be paid from the city's risk fund.

In a staff report, City Attorney Ted Gathe wrote the settlement resolves all claims against current and former city employees "at a fraction" of what Marshack has asked for and avoids spending time and money in preparation for trial. Two assistant city attorneys had been working on the case.

An October status report to the federal judge said two attempts at mediation had been unsuccessful.

Seidl said Tuesday that damages were going to be difficult to prove under the applicable legal standards. He also said that since the city moved the case to federal court this year from Clark County Superior Court, where it was filed in 2008, it essentially restarted the case, and Marshack was ready to move on.

"Dr. Marshack's case has always been about conduct by the city that she felt was wrong and inappropriate," Seidl said. "She's pleased to be able to reach the settlement and put this case behind her."

Assistant City Attorney Alison Chinn said the city asked for the case to be moved to federal court after amended claims by Marshack alleged violations of federal law; Seidl argued there was nothing new in the claims and the case should have stayed in Superior Court.

200 complaints

The claims against the city were related to an easement dispute among a handful of property owners in a secluded Columbia River waterfront neighborhood.

The dispute among Marshack, a psychologist, and her neighbors produced more than 200 complaints to Vancouver's code enforcement department, 18 calls to 911 and a dozen requests for anti-harassment orders. Years of legal battles culminated in a 2007 court order that Marshack and several neighbors have no contact, ever.

In the lawsuit against the city, Marshack alleged that police and code enforcement officers and other city employees subjected her to unfair standards and she was harassed and defamed.

In a 2006 email to then-Assistant Chief Mitch Barker, Marshack wrote that she felt at least one officer was against her.

Barker responded that he had heard about the situation.

"I can assure you that nobody on our staff is taking sides on what is clearly a contentious issue," Barker wrote.

After the case was moved to federal court, Seidl was required to list anyone who could potentially be called as a witness. He listed 74 people including Scott and Jody Campbell, owners of The Columbian. The Campbells used to live east of the feuding neighbors, but never had easement rights and were not part of the litigation.