By Marcy Stamper
Dennis Rabidou, Okanogan County’s Superior Court administrator and juvenile department administrator, has been receiving his full salary — for doing both jobs — as well as back pay, since a lawsuit against the county was settled out of court at the end of last year.
The crux of the June 2016 lawsuit was whether the Superior Court judges, who hired and supervise Rabidou, or the county commissioners, had the authority to set Rabidou’s pay. The judges were also plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleged that the former board of county commissioners had interfered with the authority of judges to manage and compensate their staff. The lawsuit against the county also named the three commissioners in office at the time individually — Ray Campbell, Sheilah Kennedy and Jim DeTro. Campbell and Kennedy were defeated in 2016, so only DeTro is still in office.
In a settlement reached in November 2017, all parties agreed to dismiss the suit against the three commissioners as individuals, and agreed it was in everyone’s best interest to settle the case. Copies of the agreement were recently obtained by the Methow Valley News.
Issues in the case spanned half-a-dozen years. Rabidou was initially hired in 2010 — by the judges — as juvenile department administrator and, in 2013, was appointed to serve concurrently as superior court administrator, according to the legal documents. In 2015, they negotiated a four-year contract that gave Rabidou a raise because he was doing two jobs.
The lawsuit claimed that the county’s budget process allows individual departments to make their own internal allocations and that the court had adequate funds in its budget to give Rabidou a raise. It also stated that the commissioners had initially agreed they didn’t need to be a party to the court’s employment agreements. But, the lawsuit alleged, the commissioners later adopted a resolution requiring their advance approval for salary adjustments.
The county had argued that the judges authorized a pay raise without the right to do so under the state Constitution, violating the separation of powers.
The Superior Court judges made several offers to settle the case, hoping to avoid a trial and the expense of litigation, said Rabidou last week. After Andy Hover and Chris Branch took office in 2017, the new board of commissioners began negotiations to settle the dispute, he said.
The settlement affirms Rabidou’s full salary of $7,287 per month, paying him $40,310.74 in lost wages — the difference between the salary agreed to in the contract with the judges and what the county commissioners said he was due.
The settlement also reimbursed Rabidou for $357,000 in court expenses and attorney’s fees, plus 3-percent interest on part of that amount.
Under the settlement, the county will honor Rabidou’s employment agreement, including cost-of-living increases. It also preserves the current staffing levels in the Superior Court and the salaries of those five employees.
The judges and commissioners will work together on future budgets for the court. While the agreement acknowledges that the court’s budget requests will not automatically be approved, once the budget is set, the judges will be free to allocate funds without the commissioners’ approval.
The settlement doesn’t constitute any admission as to violation of the law.
All parties were represented by specially appointed attorneys and the case was initially heard by a visiting judge because of the involvement of so many county departments and employees.
“I have a good relationship and am working well with the new board,” said Rabidou. “It’s back to the way it used to be.”