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APNewsBreak: Lawsuit likely in Senate abuse case

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A Senate Republican senior attorney is a step closer to filing a lawsuit against the state in response to what he says was a hostile work environment that got worse when a controversial senator was allowed back into the GOP caucus.

A lawyer for Mike Hoover said an administrative claim for damages was delivered to the state on Thursday. The move is a prerequisite to suing a state agency. The state has 60 days to respond, during which time no lawsuit can be filed. Hoover is seeking $1.75 million.

The tort claim, dated Tuesday, was delivered to the Risk Management Division of the Department of Enterprise Services.

Brad Hendrickson, deputy secretary of the Senate, said he was not yet aware of the filing. He said that the Senate was still in the process of seeking outside counsel for the case.

Hoover says he was subjected to a hostile and abusive workplace because of Sen. Pam Roach.

Roach was banned from the Republican caucus two years ago after an investigation determined that she had mistreated staff. GOP leaders implemented policies barring Roach from the caucus room and deemed her ineligible to participate in caucus votes.

The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, which oversees personnel issues, issued a reprimand on behalf of the entire Senate in early 2010, and ordered that Roach should have no access to Senate staff.

The committee wrote that any changes granting her more access to staff were "contingent upon the completion of a plan for counseling or training."

While Roach had received prior reprimands for her interactions with staff, the 2010 punishment followed numerous incidents with Hoover, culminating with an "unusually vicious attack" in 2009, according to a demand letter sent by Hoover's attorney last week to Tom Hoemann, the secretary of the Senate.

Last week, Roach told reporters that she only had two interactions with Hoover over nine years, and that she doesn't want the state to settle with him.

"I think that they should call his bluff," she said.

In a demand letter sent to the Senate last week, Hoover's attorney wrote that all of the restrictions on her were lifted "solely for political reasons."

Democrats hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, but last month, three Democrats stood with Republicans on a GOP-crafted budget plan that then passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Roach also voted with them. After passing a new bipartisan budget deal, the Legislature adjourned on Wednesday morning.

Documents show Roach was allowed back into the caucus on Feb. 29, and that another letter saying "caucus sanctions" were lifted against her on March 2, the same day the Senate began debate on the budget.

The Senate has said that the sanctions against Roach interacting with staff, as set by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, had not, in fact, been lifted.

Republican leadership insisted last week that the second letter was not meant to imply that Roach had regained staff privileges.

However, in the demand letter, Hoover's attorney wrote that Roach "clearly understood that all sanctions against her have been lifted and staff restored" and noted that she wanted a public information officer assigned to her.

In the claim filed this week, Hoover argues that the sanctions were "improperly removed" when Roach was allowed back into the caucus around the time of that key vote.

He wrote that Sen. Roach "is now free to continue her abusive treatment of me and others (she has already begun doing so)."

"I have suffered severe health consequences from all of these actions and inactions," Hoover wrote in the claim. "Moreover, the failure of the Senate to enforce its own respectful workplace policy has made it impossible for me to perform my job, since I am one of the primary employees charged with enforcing this very policy."

In the demand letter, attorney Daniel Johnson had written that Hoover would like to go on leave from his job "to avoid any awkwardness or tension during this time" and to deal with health issues that arose from the situation. Hoover officially started his leave last week.

Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, who is filling in as Senate minority leader while Sen. Mike Hewitt recovers from surgery, said that due to the pending legal action, "unfortunately, I'm not in a position to say anything."

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, who chairs the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, said that they are "a long way from any decision" on whether to settle the case or let it go to trial.

"Now that the session is over we're stepping up our efforts to locate and independent legal counsel to help us," she said.