Clark County eyes fighting Spencer verdict

County financing post-trial motions in $9 million award

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Clark County will finance post-trial motions following a $9 million verdict awarded to a former Vancouver man who spent nearly 20 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing his two children and a stepson.

A jury in U.S. District Court in Tacoma handed down the verdict Feb. 3 along with findings against two former employees of the Clark County Sheriff's Office. Former Detective Sharon Krause was found to have violated Clyde Ray Spencer's constitutional rights to due process by fabricating police reports. Her former supervisor, Sgt. Mike Davidson, who had an affair with Spencer's wife, was also found liable.

On Feb. 12, county commissioners voted unanimously to not indemnify Krause and Davidson, meaning they will not protect them by paying the judgment. Commissioners say fabricating police reports wasn't part of Krause's official duties as a county employee.

So far, the county has spent $495,000 in legal fees and associated court costs to defend Krause and Davidson.

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Bernard Veljacic said Friday that defense and indemnification are separate.

The county provided the defense for Krause and Davidson while reserving the right not to indemnify, he said. The defense at the trial court level isn't complete until post-trial motions are completed and a notice of appeal gets filed, he said.

"Whether Krause and Davidson plan to pay their attorneys to continue on in their defense at the appellate level would be up to them," Veljacic said.

Spencer's lead attorney, Kathleen Zellner of Chicago, has said she plans to file a writ of execution, asking the judge to order the county to pay the $9 million verdict.

She issued a written statement Friday in response to the post-trial motion filed by the defense.

"Apparently Clark County is not confident of its prior position that it does not have to pay the verdict because now it has decided to fight the verdict. We believe that Ray Spencer will win any appeal that is filed and Clark County will be paying interest and our fees for delaying the inevitable. Watching the county's ever-changing position is a bit like watching an unguided missile. You know it is going to crash; you just don't know when and where," Zellner wrote.

Olympia attorneys Jeffrey Freimund and Guy Bogdanovich, who represent Davidson and Krause, respectively, filed a motion Friday indicating plans to ask the judge to reconsider the case.

The motion was only a request to U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle to file a motion for a new trial that exceeds a 12-page limit, but indicated plans to seek "a new trial based upon issues involving errors committed in jury instructions and evidentiary rulings during trial."

First, though, attorneys will ask Settle to reconsider his denial of their request to dismiss the case, which was made after Spencer's attorneys rested their case at trial.

In 1985, Spencer, depressed over the breakup of his marriage and confronted with Krause's reports, entered an Alford plea to the child abuse charges. The plea, treated as a guilty plea, allows a defendant to maintain innocence but acknowledge a jury could find him guilty.

Spencer, who had been a motorcycle officer for the Vancouver Police Department, was sentenced to two life terms plus 14 years. In 2004, his sentence was commuted by outgoing Gov. Gary Locke, who in a commutation order cited numerous troubling aspects of Spencer's case. The convictions were subsequently thrown out and the charges were dismissed.

Spencer, 66, now works in security in the Los Angeles area.

Interest on the $9 million verdict is accumulating at the rate of $2,700 a day. Additionally, Zellner filed a motion this week in accordance with the Civil Rights Act, seeking $2.49 million in legal fees and costs. That includes a multiplier of 1.5 for attorney fees, which, she argues, courts have allowed for factors including the undesirability of the case, the inability of attorneys to take on additional clients in light of the demands of the case and the potential for receiving no payment.

If granted, the legal fees and costs would be on top of the $9 million verdict awarded to Spencer.

Clark County's insurance won't cover the verdict or legal fees because the county wasn't insured at the time of Spencer's conviction.