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Judge orders evidence in ‘dysfunctional’ case

The city of Spokane must produce emails regarding its contract with a police department psychologist as part of preparation for a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a detective, a judge ruled this week.

Defense lawyer Bob Dunn requested the emails because of what he believes is misconduct by the city regarding the employment of police psychologist Dr. Deanette Palmer.

Dunn is representing Spokane police Detective Jay Mehring in a $3.5 million suit against the city. Mehring contends the city didn’t renew Palmer’s contract because she had ruled he was fit to return to duty.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor said Thursday that Palmer does not have to provide Dunn emails about her contract with the city because she’s not involved in Mehring’s civil case, other than as a witness. But the city is a defendant and must provide the emails as soon as possible.

Mehring recently asked the Sheriff’s Office to investigate allegations that police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and city attorneys engaged in felony witness tampering by failing to renew Palmer’s contract.

Assistant City Attorney Ellen O’Hara blasted the witness tampering claim in court Thursday, calling it baseless and “literally defaming.”

O’Hara said the city has always planned to renew Palmer’s contract.

City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi “is a very busy man,” O’Hara said. “This is a minor $10,000 to $15,000 contract. It was not on top of his list and he didn’t get to it. And he even apologized to Dr. Palmer.”

O’Hara continued, “What this really is is an attempt by the plaintiff to smear Chief Kirkpatrick and the city” and to taint the jury pool by building on “all the smearing” from the Otto Zehm-Karl Thompson case.

“It’s clear to Dr. Palmer and the city that the chief wants the contract renewed,” O’Hara said.

But Dunn emphasized that when asked in deposition if she felt her work with Mehring had adversely affected her relationship with the city, Palmer responded, “definitely.”

O’Connor said the issue could be discussed during the civil trial, and emails outlining the issue could be entered as evidence.

O’Connor said the request for emails should be filled quickly because they should be readily available in city records. The lawyers are preparing to begin a jury trial Oct. 17 for a case that stems from Mehring’s termination in 2007 amid reports that he threatened to harm his wife. He was acquitted of those charges and reinstated with back pay. Mehring, 43, has been on paid leave since Sept. 9, 2010, after Kirkpatrick determined he was unfit for duty based on claims he’d made in his lawsuit.

O’Connor criticized lawyers on both sides Thursday, calling the case “dysfunctional.”

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