The accused attorney denies the woman's allegations and claims they're part of an ongoing conspiracy to retaliate against him for blowing the whistle on festering wrongdoing within the agency that regulates lawyer conduct in Washington.
A woman who works for the Washington State Bar Association has accused an executive of its governing board of sexual harassment and claims the agency didn’t hold him accountable despite an investigation that backs up her allegations.
The accused attorney, in turn, denies the allegations and claims they’re part of an ongoing conspiracy to retaliate against him for blowing the whistle on festering wrongdoing within the agency that regulates lawyer conduct in Washington.
Kara Ralph, 37, an events coordinator for the bar association, has since filed a $150,000 tort claim against the quasi-governmental agency.
She contends that Dan’L W. Bridges, then a governor-elect who had yet to be sworn in on the bar’s governing board, followed her onto an elevator and tried to accompany Ralph to her hotel room while the two were attending a retreat in Walla Walla in July 2016. Bridges’ unwanted advance occurred, Ralph says, after the two drank and talked in a hotel lounge and Bridges, who is married, allegedly told her he “did not believe in being monogamous,” according to the claim.
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An employment lawyer later hired to investigate what happened found “it more likely than not that Mr. Bridges engaged in certain actions that he strongly denies,” but Ralph claims the bar’s board of governors failed to discipline Bridges. Instead, the bar’s governing board later elected Bridges as its treasurer, the claim states. Ralph contends she has since “suffered an emotional toll” and is “worse off” for having reported her allegations.
“A respected outside investigator contracted by the WSBA found Ms. Ralph’s report credible, offering a perfect opportunity for the Board of Governors to discipline one of its own and send a message to all Governors — and the legal community — that a new era was upon us and that such behavior will not be tolerated,” according to Ralph’s tort claim, which her attorney, Isaac Ruiz, filed with the bar in October. “The Board of Governors completely failed to seize the opportunity.”
Bridges, 51, a lawyer since 1994 and partner in the Seattle firm, McGaughey Bridges Dunlap, disputes Ralph’s claims and provided The Seattle Times with a summary of a lie-detector test he took to support his contention that he didn’t sexually harass her. He acknowledges having drinks and talking to Ralph, but he says she “overshared” personal information that made him uncomfortable, and the two parted for the night amicably.
“I respect every person’s right to bring forward, if in good faith, a complaint,” Bridges said in an email. “However, after an investigation I willingly participated in not one witness was found corroborating a single inappropriate act by me; not against this claimant or any person. This claim raised two and half years after the event alleged and only after I exposed material irregularities within the State Bar, is seen for the retaliation against me it is.”
Bridges, in turn, has filed his own tort claim against the bar with the state’s risk-management department, contending the allegations are part of ongoing retaliation against him for his whistle-blowing about “conflicts of interest, self-dealing and irregularities” within the agency.
In the 16-page letter, Greg Albert, Bridges’ attorney, contends among other things that bar officials have threatened and bullied Bridges for questioning agency expenses, including a nearly $300,000 compensation package for the bar’s executive director, and for his support of changes to the agency’s bylaws that Bridges says would bring more oversight of the agency.
Bridges’ tort claim has been forwarded to Washington’s Attorney General’s Office, a state spokeswoman said Friday. Ralph’s tort claim against the bar is now in mediation, Ruiz said.
Ralph’s lawyer also countered last week that Bridges’ claims of a grander conspiracy are a red-herring.
“Mr. Bridges’ `lie detector’ and his allegation of a witch hunt are par for the course when powerful men are finally confronted. It’s downright Trumpian,” Ruiz said in an email.
The bar association, which is charged with handling admissions, licensing, regulatory and disciplinary functions of the legal profession, said in written responses to The Times that it takes “every report of harassment seriously,” and acknowledged it called for the outside investigation of Ralph’s claims and likewise is investigating Bridges’ allegations. An outside investigator has completed a review of some of Bridges’ concerns about the executive director’s pay, determining “the evidence does not support any adverse findings.”
Bridges contends the bar only reluctantly investigated the compensation issue after he pushed the issue. “Not surprisingly, the staff’s investigation cleared the staff, without addressing numerous complaints against the staff,” his tort claim says.
Both Ralph’s and Bridges’ claims also have been reported to the Washington State Supreme Court, which oversees the self-regulating agency that derives its funding through mandatory fees on the legal professionals who make up its roughly 40,000 members.
Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, in a Sept. 21 letter to the bar’s top staff and governors directing them to put a hold on the proposed bylaw amendments, also generally acknowledged that issues of “ongoing interactions among the Governors and the Governors’ interaction with staff are of concern to us.”
“The WSBA must be a safe and healthy environment in which to work and govern,” said Fairhurst’s letter, which didn’t specifically reference any incident. “To the extent that there are not policies dealing with harassment and retaliation to cover all possible interactions by persons involved in Bar activities and Bar governance, the Court by a majority directs that such policies be adopted as soon as possible.”
The bar already had a long-standing anti-harassment policy in place to address retaliation, but since the court’s directive, the board has been working on a no-retaliation policy that has yet to be completed, said Sara Niegowski, the agency’s spokeswoman.