It might be a very merry Christmas indeed for Tacoma attorney Barbara Corey.
The Washington State Supreme Court last week declined to hear Pierce County’s appeal of a $3 million judgment a jury awarded to the former deputy prosecutor two years ago.
The county’s only option now appears to be a direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Such a move would be extremely expensive for the county, which already has spent about $800,000 on private attorneys to fight Corey’s wrongful termination claim.
The judgment also is accruing interest at the rate of $334 per day while the case remains pending, said Mark Maenhout, the county’s risk manager.
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The county’s record in the case – it’s been beaten at every level – also might dissuade county officials from continuing the fight.
Maenhout said Tuesday the county is exploring its legal options.
“We’re disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision,” he said. “We’re going to work in a timely fashion to resolve this whole case.”
Corey said she’s not making plans for the money just yet.
“It definitely should be the end,” said Corey, who sued the county after then-Prosecuting Attorney Gerald Horne fired her in 2004. “It’s the right ruling. I don’t think it’s the end, though.”
County taxpayers would be on the hook for $1.2 million of the judgment should Corey ultimately prevail.
They also might have to pay Corey’s attorneys fees, which top $1.2 million. She has filed a separate lawsuit over the fees. A trial in that case is to begin in King County in March.
The county’s insurance carrier would be responsible for the remaining $1.8 million of the judgment, Maenhout said.
Corey sued in 2006, alleging Horne fired her without cause after she refused to be made a scapegoat for an unpopular personnel move in the office. Corey contended Horne ordered the move but disavowed it when it raised a stink.
Corey, who was third in command at the time, further claimed Horne defamed her by making disparaging comments about her to the media.
The county countered Corey ordered the personnel move, then lied about it when confronted. Horne’s comments afterward were appropriate, it added.
A King County jury sided with Corey, awarding her $3,075,170 in damages.
Pierce County appealed.
Its lawyers argued, among other things, they weren’t allowed to present disparaging evidence about Corey during the trial and there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the county acted intentionally to hurt Corey.
They also contended no cause of action existed for Corey to claim unsubstantiated information about her was negligently disseminated.
The Court of Appeals, Division I, ruled in January that there was no cause to overturn the jury’s verdict or reduce the damages award. The county then asked the Supreme Court to review the case.
On Friday, the high court, without comment, said no.