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Federal judge dismisses most claims in Stevens County sexual harassment lawsuit

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 12, 2019

The Stevens County Courthouse in Colville is seen on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The Stevens County Courthouse in Colville is seen on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A federal judge has dismissed claims made against the Stevens County District Court administrator in a lawsuit brought by a woman who says she was sexually harassed while doing court-ordered community service.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit pleaded guilty to drunken driving in 2015 and was sentenced to 81 days on the county’s work crew, of which she completed 45 days. She alleged that the work crew supervisor, Pat Walsh, sexually harassed her by making “boorish and highly inflammatory and offensive statements,” including remarks about her breasts, her “sex appeal” and her intimate relationship with her husband.

She also alleged that Stevens County District Court Judge Gina Tveit had retaliated against her by reinstating her original sentence after a Superior Court judge granted a prosecutor’s request to shorten it in light of the harassment. The woman also alleged that the court administrator, Nadine Borders, had failed to act on her initial complaint about the harassment.

U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson dismissed the claims against Tveit in October, saying Tveit was entitled to “judicial immunity” because she had acted within her role as a judge. Malouf Peterson dismissed the claims against Borders last week, saying she too had acted within her official capacity.

In her 28-page opinion, Malouf Peterson emphasized that Borders did not have the authority to fire Walsh, the work crew supervisor, who eventually was fired by the county’s public works director.

“We work hard in District Court to make sure that every defendant is treated fairly and with respect,” Borders said in a statement provided by her attorney, Jerry Moberg. “Ms. Benjamin’s allegations against me and the District Court were unfounded and we are pleased that the federal court has dismissed this case.”

The dismissal leaves only a few outstanding claims against Walsh and Stevens County. One of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Brendan Kidd, said they plan to appeal the decision.

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