Thursday, June 17, 2021
June 17, 2021

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Clark County tries, fails to dismiss plaintiff in Benton case

Defense concludes, closing arguments set for Monday

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday afternoon in the trial of a lawsuit brought by Don Benton, the former director of Clark County’s now-defunct Department of Environmental Services, and two subordinates.

Trial began May 3, with two days of jury selection, at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.

The county has maintained there was no wrongdoing in the May 2016 layoffs of Benton, Christopher Clifford, a program coordinator, and Susan Rice, an administrative assistant, amid what it contends was a planned staff reorganization.

Benton submitted a whistleblower complaint — about two weeks before the layoffs — against then-county manager Mark McCauley, accusing him of illegal actions and political retaliation. Clifford and Rice apparently helped Benton draft the complaint, though testimony from the defense has stated that was not known at the time.

The trio then filed a lawsuit in December 2016 in Clark County Superior Court alleging hostility and retaliation during their employment.

To Watch Trial

The trial is not physically open to the public, but it can be viewed remotely by following the link: https://clark.wa.gov/superior-court/zoom-information.

None of the plaintiffs were reassigned or rehired by the county after their layoffs.

The parties spent much of Thursday going over last-minute legal issues and jury instructions.

Jurors returned at 2 p.m. to hear the remainder of the defense’s witnesses and evidence.

The defense showed excerpts of depositions of Clifford, Rice and Benton. In them, Benton said he could not recall when he started drafting the whistleblower complaint or who had helped him. Clifford said he did not sign his name to it, and there was no discussion about doing so. Benton turned it in to the county’s human resources department on his own, Clifford said. Rice only read the complaint, she said, and didn’t assist in the research or drafting.

The county rested its case after the excerpts were shown. There were no rebuttal witnesses called.

Afterward, the county tried to dismiss Rice as a plaintiff, contending she was not a whistleblower. However Judge Gregory Gonzales found the plaintiffs had submitted enough evidence to send her claim to the jury.

Trial is not happening Friday due to a scheduling conflict at the event center. The parties planned to meet, though, to finish hammering out details before the case goes to the jury, which will return at 1 p.m. Monday.

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