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Aug. 7, 2022

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Still no verdict in Benton lawsuit trial

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter

Don Benton’s lawsuit trial against Clark County will continue after jurors completed their second full day of deliberations Wednesday with no verdict.

Jurors have now deliberated for roughly 19 hours since closing arguments concluded late Monday afternoon. They will return to the jury room Thursday.

Benton, the former director of the now-defunct county Department of Environmental Services, and two of his employees were laid off from their jobs about two weeks after he submitted a whistleblower complaint about then-county manager Mark McCauley. The complaint accused McCauley of illegal actions and political retaliation.

Christopher Clifford, then a program coordinator, apparently helped Benton draft the complaint, and Susan Rice, an administrative assistant, looked it over, according to trial testimony.

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

The county maintains there was no wrongdoing in the May 2016 layoffs of Benton, Clifford and Rice, amid what it contended was a planned staff reorganization.

The jury is deliberating over three verdict forms, one for each plaintiff. To reach each decision, the jury needs to determine whether the county wrongfully terminated them, breached contract or violated promises of specific treatment. It will also decide on an amount for economic and noneconomic damages for each plaintiff. Ten of the 12 jurors need to agree on a verdict for each plaintiff.

The trial began May 3 and took place at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. Deliberations are happening at the Clark County Courthouse.

“They said they are making good progress,” Judge Gregory Gonzales said of the jury near the end of the day Wednesday.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter

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