Port of Coupeville commissioners not liable in lawsuit

Two Port of Coupeville commissioners won’t be individually liable in a lawsuit that was brought against both them and the port.

Friday, Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock dismissed commissioners John Mishasek and William Bell from the lawsuit brought by former executive director Forrest Rambo. The lawsuit, however, will continue with the port as the defendant.

Rambo alleges that he was wrongly terminated by the port and is seeking $120,000 in damages. The lawsuit cites whistleblower laws and alleges that the two commissioners fired him because he questioned the legality of the port’s harbormaster also being a paying tenant of the port-owned Coupeville Wharf.

The commissioners fired Rambo in September 2016 in a 2-1 vote. Mishasek and Bell voted to terminate Rambo while Mike Diamanti, formerly the board president, voted against the action. Diamanti later resigned in protest.

The attorneys representing the port filed a motion to dismiss Mishasek and Bell as defendants, citing state law that grants elected officials immunity from liability for discretionary decisions or the failure to make discretionary decisions.

Chris Skinner, attorney for Rambo, argued that the two commissioners should be individually liable under a state law regarding the unlawful withholding of wages. He said it specifically applies to elected officials.

Skinner argued that Rambo was owned “comp time” and vacation time.

“In addition to being illegal, it was fundamentally unfair to treat an employee in that manner,” he said.

Hancock, however, said case law prevents elected officials from being liable unless they violated clearly established constitutional rights that a reasonable person would be aware of and that the wage issue didn’t involve constitutional rights.

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