By Marcy Stamper
The judge hearing the lawsuit brought against Okanogan County by Superior Court administrator Dennis Rabidou, who contends that the county commissioners interfered with payment of his full salary, has rejected the county’s request to dismiss the case, allowing Rabidou’s lawsuit to proceed.
Visiting judge Veronica Galván from King County Superior Court ruled Dec. 22 that a dismissal is appropriate only when it appears beyond doubt that a plaintiff cannot present information to support his or her claims.
Rabidou, who holds two positions — superior court administrator and juvenile department administrator for the county — has an employment contract with Okanogan County Superior Court that sets his salary and provides for a raise to compensate him for taking on both jobs.
In her ruling, Galván pointed to state law and legal precedent covering specific jobs in the juvenile and court systems, including juvenile director and probation counselor. One of the issues in this case is whether these jobs fall under the supervision of the county commissioners or the Superior Court judges.
Galván found that Rabidou’s duties are not as clearly defined as in some cases the county cited in its defense. She also noted that the judges were not seeking additional money to cover Rabidou’s salary.
“Courts have the inherent obligation and the power to control and administer their functions and cannot relinquish this duty to any other branch of government,” wrote Galván. “It stands to reason they may also determine a reasonable wage and to contract for such personnel.”
In oral arguments in the case on Dec. 2, attorney Rob McKenna, who is representing Okanogan County, said a state Supreme Court decision made clear that the commissioners, as the county’s legislative authority, have the sole power to set salaries for county staff. While the court can hire and fire staff, the county commissioners retain full authority over the budget, the county contends.
Lawyers for Rabidou and the Superior Court assert that the commissioners approved only a lump-sum budget for the court and that the judges have the discretion to set salaries and allocate that money to ensure efficient court operations. They say the commissioners are interfering with the judges’ authority to manage their staff and are violating the principle of separation of powers.
With Galván’s ruling, the case can proceed to the discovery process, with depositions from the county commissioners and from Rabidou, according to Benjamin Compton, Rabidou’s attorney. The case would then proceed to trial.
The judge’s decision supports their contention that the Superior Court has the right to administer its own affairs and to fix the salary of their court administrator and juvenile department administrator, said Compton.
Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said last week that because the case is ongoing, he is not at liberty to comment. The three county commissioners who were in office when the lawsuit was filed last year — Ray Campbell, Sheilah Kennedy and Jim DeTro — are all named in the suit, but Campbell and Kennedy were defeated in the November election and only DeTro is still in office.
Hover said this creates a strange situation for him and Chris Branch, the other newly elected commissioner, and that they will be speaking with county attorneys about the matter.
Attorneys for Okanogan County filed notice with the state Supreme Court on Dec. 30 that they intend to ask the high court to review Rabidou’s case. The county has 15 days to file the request. There is no set timeline for the Supreme Court to decide whether it will hear the case.
No details were available at press time as to why the county seeks to bypass the Court of Appeals or about the details of the petition to the Supreme Court. If the high court declines to hear the case, it will be heard by Judge Galván in Superior Court.
All parties are being represented by specially appointed attorneys and the case is being heard by a visiting judge because of the involvement of so many county departments and employees.