Lopez resident Edward Kilduff and attorneys Nick Power and Michelle Earl-Hubbard were ordered to pay San Juan County $10,000 for “bringing an improper lawsuit” to remove a public official and “recovery of attorney fees for defending against a frivolous lawsuit.” The lawsuit was finalized on May 8.
On Dec. 7, Skagit County Superior Court Judge Brian Stiles ruled that the complainants would owe the county rather than be paid by it. Though the penalty is due immediately, the county is allowing time for the trio to appeal.
“Ms. Earl-Hubbard and I bring tough cases against governments, and we will continue to bring these hard cases,” Power told The Sounder in December. “We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling, and we will appeal to ensure the transparency and accountability of our government.”
In June 2016, Kilduff sued the county in an attempt to recover penalties and attorney fees and to remove Councilman Jamie Stephens from his seat. Kilduff was represented by Power of Friday Harbor and Seattle-based lawyer Earl-Hubbard.
According to lawsuit documents, the case was filed by Kilduff because of public employees’ alleged failure to produce public records as required by the state’s public records act (RCW 42.56) and that Stephens allegedly occupied two incompatible public offices. In addition to being a councilman, Stephens also serves as the county’s public records officer.
San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord said that in 2015, Kilduff requested public records from the county. The county provided documents to Kilduff and Gaylord said that he told him to contact the county if he wanted more information. Kilduff then sued the county almost a year later for failure to produce all of the requested public records. In May 2015, Kilduff submitted a written public records request for all documents relating to a San Juan Island property’s wetland evaluation by County Manager Mike Thomas.
The lawsuit said that Kilduff submitted the public records request because he is a contributor for the Trojan Heron, a website that states it is a “Citizen journalism [blog] about environmental deception in the San Juan Islands of Washington state.”
“In an unusual twist, the public records lawsuit included a claim to oust Jamie Stephens from office,” wrote Gaylord in a press release in December. “The ouster claim is called a quo warranto proceeding. Only two people may file such a proceeding: the Prosecuting Attorney and a person who has a reason to believe he or she is entitled to the office. Mr. Kilduff was neither.”
Jeffrey Myers of Olympia represented San Juan County; Stephens was represented by San Juan County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jonathan Cain.