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News / Northwest

Judge removes Longview from lawsuit against officials

City needs to be served separately in open meetings suit

By Brennen Kauffman, The Daily News, Longview (TNS)
Published: June 18, 2024, 7:37pm

LONGVIEW—The judge overseeing an Open Public Meetings Act lawsuit against a group of Longview City Council members reversed his decision to include the city of Longview as one of the defendants.

Pacific County Superior Court Judge Donald Richter ruled Tuesday morning that because Longview had not been originally named in the lawsuit, city officials had never been properly served with court filings. Richter reversed his decision from May that named the city as a co-defendant in the lawsuit.

Longview would need to be sued again and formally served in order to be added back as a defendant in the case.

The ruling does not affect whether the city will continue to pay for the legal fees of the four councilmembers being sued. The defense attorneys agreed that the resolution passed by the council last Thursday to have their legal fees reimbursed by the city would remain in place.

The lawsuit was filed in March by former councilmember Mike Wallin and Longview residents Tom Samuels and John Melink filed against Spencer Boudreau, Erik Halvorson, Kalei LaFave and Keith Young. The lawsuit alleges that the councilmembers violated Washington’s open meetings law to make decisions about the contract for interim city manager Jim Duscha outside of a council meeting.

Jeff Myers, the defense attorney representing the city, did not attend the hearing in May when Richter had originally ruled. Myers argued Tuesday that the city had been “conspicuous in their absence” from the original complaint because the councilmembers were being sued in their individual capacity.

“There were no claims brought against the city. There was nothing else for the city to answer because the city was never joined,” Myers said.

The two lawyers representing the named individual council members disagreed about the city’s involvement in the lawsuit. Nick Power, the defense attorney for Halvorson and Young, said one of the original goals of the lawsuit was to have the court reinstate Kris Swanson as the city manager. That aspect of the lawsuit was dropped in May, but Power argued that claim only made sense if the city was included as a defendant.

Boudreau had argued in a court filing that when he was personally served in the lawsuit in March, he had accepted service on behalf of the entire city because of his status as mayor.