County to pay $1.35M settling lawsuit dogging Sheriff Urquhart

The Seattle PI

King County will pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit that has dogged Sheriff John Urquhart for two years.

Brought by three King County Sheriff’s Office deputies, the lawsuit raised a host of claims about Urquhart’s management style and conduct. Urquhart, a longtime employee of the office who was elected sheriff in 2012, continues to dispute the allegations, including those resolved through the seven-figure settlement.

The  lawsuit at issue was brought by two former deputies and one current deputy who claim they were either subjected to sexual harassment or retaliated against for raising concerns.

In a statement Tuesday, Urquhart described himself as “adamantly opposed” to it while acknowledging that the county’s case may not have persuaded a jury.

“I am confident there was no discrimination or retaliation,” Urquhart said in a statement. “However I understand a jury could see otherwise, and therefore the desire by King County to mitigate that risk.”

Julie Kays, an attorney representing them, claimed in court papers that sexism and discrimination against women are “pervasive” in the Sheriff’s Office “from Sheriff Urquhart on down.”

“The sheriff repeatedly stated that he would never pay ‘those women’ a dime,” Kays said Tuesday. “He’s eating his words to the tune of $1.35 million.”

The settlement was reached during a mediation session on Thursday. Urquhart said he was not involved in the mediation.

King County previously settled with three detectives who were subjected to what Kays described as “rampant sexual harassment” from their sergeants. Those women won a $1 million settlement.

Urquhart, a longtime spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, had not yet been elected sheriff when that harassment occurred. Kays contends Urquhart derided the earlier lawsuit as “frivolous” and failed to sufficiently punish the sergeants, who, among other allegations, were said to have discussed plans to masturbate to a sexual assault victim’s statement.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys – Kays and Lincoln Beauregard, of Connelly Law Offices – recently made news representing a man who claims to have been sexually abused by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. More concerning for King County, though, was a $2.8 million jury verdict they won on behalf of two Seattle police officers who were sidelined after raising concerns about unfair treatment by police brass.

Two of the deputies who most recently sued the Sheriff’s Office, Amy Shoblom and Louis Caballero, claim they were fired in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment. The third, Sgt. Diana Neff, is still with the department but claims she was subjected to an internal investigation ordered by the sheriff after she raised claims of discrimination.

Shoblom was assigned in 2013 to police Metro Transit, where she claims she was subjected to “relentless sexual harassment” from her sergeant. Caballero, a sergeant in the Metro Transit division, helped Shoblom bring a complaint against the other sergeant.