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News / Clark County News

Jury selection begins in Don Benton lawsuit against county

Judge, attorneys question potential jurors for trial

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: May 3, 2021, 6:22pm

Jury selection began Monday in a lawsuit against Clark County being pursued by Don Benton — a former Republican state senator, county official and Trump appointee — and two former county employees.

A jury had not been selected by late Monday afternoon. Clark County Superior Court Judge Gregory Gonzales and attorneys spent the day questioning potential jurors.

The trial, expected to last up to three weeks, is taking place at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. Gonzales sat at a black sheet-draped table in front of a black-draped background at the event center, normally home to livestock expos, gun shows and exhibits at the Clark County Fair.

The judge and attorneys asked prospective jurors about their work and personal commitments over the next few weeks. They also asked the jury pool whether they knew any of the defendants, plaintiffs or witnesses in the case and what facts they might already know.

“I just know those names from Clark County politics,” one potential juror replied.

Benton was the director of the now-defunct county Department of Environmental Services. He filed the lawsuit in December 2016 in Clark County Superior Court, along with former subordinates Susan Rice and Christopher Clifford.

Potential trial witnesses include Benton, Rice and Clifford, former County Manager Mark McCauley and former county councilors David Madore and Tom Mielke.

The suit alleges, in part, that the plaintiffs faced hostility and retaliation after resisting what they described as improper actions by McCauley. Amid a staff reorganization in March 2016, the three plaintiffs were laid off in what McCauley described as a cost-saving measure.

Benton later took a job as Trump’s director of the Selective Service System. The Clark County Council terminated McCauley’s contract in 2017.

The plaintiffs’ counsel amended their complaint in 2019. They made the same factual allegations but added new legal claims, including that the county failed to follow its own resolutions, ordinances and home-rule charter when McCauley dissolved the department.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Seattle-based law firm Frey Buck, while Seattle-based law firm Patterson Buchanan Fobes & Leitch is representing the county.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter