Rensselaer County settled a lawsuit with former appointee Jeff Jackson. The price tag: $180,000.
TROY - Rather than risk a trial, Rensselaer County decided to settle a $1.85 million federal lawsuit filed by a former longtime employee who claimed he was not re-appointed because he publicly bashed policy changes made by his then boss County Executive Henry Zwack.Jeffry Jackson's trial was set to start Monday in front of U.S. Magistrate Randolph Treece but all sides agreed to settle for $180,000. The county will cough up $125,000 while the insurance company will pick up the balance. The Legislature is expected to approve the deal at a future meeting.
The reason for the settlement:
"We were presented with the updated facts and the decision we made was in the best interest of the county," said the Legislature's Majority Leader Bob Mirch. "If this were to go to trial, the loss to the county could be substantial because you never know what a jury would do." - 8/11/07
Alls well that ends well.
Except, we just have a few, teeny, tiny questions. We're not naive enough to expect answers, not like in a Democracy, but we thought we ask anyway.
According to Franco's article, it sounds like a First Amendment case.* Those are tough enough to win when the Plaintiff is an employee (employee has a blog that criticizes public sector boss, boss fires employee for blog content....slam dunk) but an appointee? An appointee, in this case, serves a term and is either reappointed or deappointed. The County does not need a reason for not reappointing someone. So, what exactly happened with this appointee that he received $180,000 in a settlement? If his First Amendment Rights were not violated, why the payout? If they were violated, who did it and why?
Mirch cites "new facts" that justify the settlement. New facts on the eve of trial? Who's in charge of the defense and what new facts were uncovered at the 11th hour? Why do we doubt that any "new facts" were brought to light? Because it's Federal Court, where Discovery is about as open-ended as you can get. There's no sandbagging in Federal Court. All the facts and evidence are out there well prior to trial.
Less than one year ago the County Attorney advised the County to settle for $110,000.** The County would have paid $65,000 with the remaining $45,000 coming from the insurance carrier. That settlement proposal never made it to a vote. It went down in the Rules Committee. Who was responsible for not accepting the settlement: Mirch, Kelleher and Walsh. Only O'Brien voted to approve the deal.
"Logic dictates we don't pay him $110,000 for something we don't believe," Mirch said. He said Jackson was not fired, he served at the pleasure of the sitting county executive and simply "wasn't reappointed. He's not entitled to anything." 9/10/06
Now, we pay $125,000 with the remaining $75,000 coming from insurance. We're not Rensselaer County Legislators but it look like the '06 deal may have been better. Perhaps the County should have retained Victory Lane for consulting services on this deal.
First Amendment violations: $185,000;
Rules Committee: $60,000;
Rensselaer County Government: Priceless.
New evidence? How about this:
Lawyer: "If we don't settle, Jimino and Zwack take the stand next week."
Client: "Quick, get me the new evidence file."
Guys, if you're going to have an attorney, you may as well listen to him. And while you're at it, show the United States Constitution some respect.
*The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment is applicable to almost all parts of Rensselaer County
**Independent accounting services indicate that $110,000 is actually less than $180,000