Three fired House Republican staffers in Olympia claim they were let go last summer for failing to work on GOP members' campaigns or join their fundraisers.
OLYMPIA — Three former House Republican staffers have filed legal claims against the state over their firings last June, saying they were let go for failing to work on GOP members’ campaigns or join their fundraisers.
The firings, described last summer by House Republican leaders as a staff restructuring, involved four veteran employees: Jack Archer, William Engelhardt (also known as Bill Taylor, a name he used during a prior radio career), John Charba and Jami Lund.
Lund alone has not filed a claim.
The claims filed with state risk managers by East Wenatchee lawyer Steven Lacy are the first step to lawsuits. Each claim seeks $500,000, but reserves the right to ask for higher damages later.
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In each claim, Lacy wrote: “Claimant’s discharge was motivated by his failure to participate in campaign and fundraising activities.”
The three fired staffers also claim age discrimination. Archer is 61, Engelhardt is 64, and Charba is 48.
The 60-day waiting period for Archer’s claim, which was filed Dec. 22, ended Monday, which means Lacy can sue at any time. The other claims must wait until April.
“My intent is to go forward,” Lacy said in a telephone interview Thursday, indicating the suit on behalf of Archer could be filed in Thurston County in a week or two.
John Rothlin, chief of staff for the House Republicans, said the claims are baseless. Rothlin said caucus leaders — including House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis — are waiting for an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, which defends the state against claims.
“I’ve read through the claims, and all the assertions in the claims are absolutely without merit,” Rothlin said. “We expect the highest integrity and ethics of our staff. Campaigning on state time or as a requirement of employment with the caucus is simply not permitted.”
The staffers’ allegations are a faint echo of the scandal two decades ago in which millions of dollars worth of legislative staffers’ time and resources were actively diverted to legislative campaigns.
That scandal, uncovered by The Olympian, led to changes, including passage of the Ethics in Public Service Act and creation of two ethics boards to enforce the line between lawmaking and campaigning.
The latest tort claims don’t specifically say employees were asked to work for campaigns while on state time, and Lacy said he did not want to try the case in the media by laying out his evidence.
But, he said, based upon his understanding of the ethics code, statutes would have been violated if the employees “had acquiesced” and done the work requested.
Barbara Baker, chief clerk of the House, said the allegations are being taken seriously. She also said the allegation that campaigning was a factor in the firings came as a surprise and that no one raised that specter in the aftermath of the firings.
Shortly after the firings, DeBolt told a public-radio reporter that some staffers had trouble taking on extra responsibilities such as serving more than a single committee. Archer at that time said he always served more than one committee, one of them the grueling House Ways and Means Committee.
Lund, who moved on to do work for a libertarian think tank, was surprised to learn of the tort claims when contacted by a reporter.
“I can honestly say I don’t feel I was ever asked to participate in campaigns or fundraising activities at all,” Lund said, adding that this did not mean it could not have happened.