Spokane County must pay Judge Annette Plese more than $15,000 for unused vacation after she left her District Court position when elected to Superior Court, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko has ordered that the county to pay Plese for the unused vacation time from 2009 when she ended her service at Spokane County District Court.
As part of her argument in the suit, initially filed in Lincoln County, Plese took issue with the county’s paying some judges who leave but not others.
“There is no rational basis to treat (Plese) differently than other District Court Judges leaving the bench for employment elsewhere,” Suko wrote in his opinion.
Suko ruled Plese is entitled to the $15,800 for unused leave, plus attorney’s fees and costs that have not yet been determined. Plese’s attorney, Anthony Alfieri, said he and Plese are delighted with Suko’s ruling
“Judge Suko’s favorable ruling is correct, and it gives us the legal justice we have battled for throughout this litigation,” Alfieiri wrote in an email. He is based in Redmond, Wash.
Commissioners hired Seattle-based attorneys Michael Patterson and Michael Kitson to argue their case, but efforts to reach County CEO Marshall Farnell were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Last year, Commissioner Todd Mielke argued that he did not believe the county owed Plese for unused vacation time, especially since she only worked just over a week in 2009 before she started as a Superior Court judge.
“On the eighth day of the year, she moves over to Superior Court and is given another six weeks of time” for vacation, Mielke said at the time. “She is claiming she needs six weeks of paid time off … after technically only working two or three days.”
In contrast, the county routinely paid out vacation pay for judges who retired, lost their elections or died.
In 2011, the county paid $26,500 to Judge Richard White for vacation time and, because he was over 55, for unused sick time. The county also paid Mike Padden $14,500 for 30 days of unused vacation time even though he only worked seven days before he retired in 2007.
“I think the difference between Judge Plese and Judge White is that he left county employment,” Mielke said last year. “Judge Plese transferred from a department that is wholly funded by the county to one that is half funded by the county.”
While state law says county officials “may” compensate judges for unused leave time, Plese said she was compelled to sign the county employee manual, which states that “any employee who is laid off, discharged, retired or separated from the service of the employer for any reason, shall be compensated in cash for the unused vacation accumulated at the time of separation.”
Mielke last year defended paying more county funds defending the suit than it would have cost to pay Plese for her unused vacation.
“There is a difference of opinion on how to interpret the county policy,” Mielke said last year. “We are simply asking a third party, in this case the courts, to make a ruling about how the policy should be interpreted.”
Suko wrote that state law “does not support a practice of paying some District Court judges while denying payment to others based on their reasons for vacating the office.”