County Settles with Orcas Property Owners on Alleged Damage from County Road

Posted July 20, 2021 at 5:30 am by

From the San Juan Coun­ty Pros­e­cu­tor’s Office

Two law­suits over the Orcas Road improve­ments brought by Jeff and Ang­ie John­son set­tled with a net pay­ment of $140,000 to Jeff and Ang­ie Johnson.

The John­sons, who own 38 acres at the cor­ner of Nord­strom Lane and Orcas Road, first filed suit over alleged dam­ages caused by water runoff. A sec­ond law­suit soon fol­lowed claim­ing vio­la­tions of the Pub­lic Records Act in con­nec­tion with a records request made by their attorney.

The set­tle­ments were reached after some but not all of the records act claims were dis­missed and a $10,000 penal­ty was assessed against the Johnson’s attor­ney for hold­ing back records in the prop­er­ty case.

The Prop­er­ty Case

The prop­er­ty case alleged dam­ages to the Johnson’s prop­er­ty and sheep caused by the relo­ca­tion of a cul­vert and alter­ations to Orcas Road under­tak­en in 2019. The road alter­ation added safe­ty bike lanes, altered the road curve, and added fil­ter strips to catch sur­face water.

Before the set­tle­ment, the John­sons paid a $10,000 court-imposed penal­ty assessed for vio­la­tion of court rules regard­ing dis­clos­ing documents.

The county’s insur­er agreed to pay $20,000 to the John­sons to set­tle the case, an amount Pros­e­cu­tor Ran­dall Gay­lord called a “nui­sance” val­ue. “The county’s insur­er held firm on this one, and we are grate­ful for the good work by the attor­neys involved,” said Gaylord.

The Pub­lic Records Case

The pub­lic records case began with a broad request for doc­u­ments involv­ing the Orcas Road project by the Johnson’s attor­ney. A first install­ment of about 11,000 pages was pro­vid­ed one month lat­er. After a con­ver­sa­tion with the Johnson’s attor­ney, it became clear that the requestor sought a much larg­er range of records than was orig­i­nal­ly under­stood. This result­ed in the pro­duc­tion of over 20,000 addi­tion­al pages of records.

After all 31,000 pages of records were pro­vid­ed, the John­sons sued claim­ing the coun­ty should have pro­vid­ed more doc­u­ments from the out­set and also that the coun­ty had the duty to seek out and pro­vide the records of con­trac­tors work­ing on the project.

After sev­er­al court hear­ings, the Supe­ri­or Court ruled that the coun­ty was not respon­si­ble to pro­duce the con­trac­tors’ records. The court also ruled the coun­ty should have per­formed a wider search in the first instance.

“This is a real­ly frus­trat­ing aspect of the pub­lic records laws,” said Gay­lord. “If a requester doesn’t believe they received what they asked for, then they should con­tact the agency, par­tic­u­lar­ly when the request is for a broad set of records. Every pub­lic records clerk can’t be a mind-read­er, but the law is very strict, and it can lead to penal­ties due to a sim­ple mis­un­der­stand­ing. More­over, when the coun­ty acts in good faith to cor­rect a mis­un­der­stand­ing before a law­suit, as was the case here, there should be safe har­bor from penalties.”

 Gay­lord fur­ther explained that unlike many oth­er mon­e­tary claims against the coun­ty, pub­lic records act cas­es sel­dom are paid by the county’s insur­er, and this claim will be paid by the county’s claims reserve fund.

You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.

Categories: Government

No comments yet. Be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0