TACOMA — Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols has asked a federal judge to delay his trial over sexual harassment allegations in part because he will be busy campaigning for re-election.
Nichols and his attorney, Suzanne Michael, asked for the scheduled Oct. 16 trial to be delayed until after the Nov. 6 general election, according to court papers filed Thursday.
Michael has a conflicting trial date and Nichols will be in the “heart of an election,” she said in a phone interview Monday. If the motion is granted, the 10-day trial would be delayed until at least Nov. 9.
“As an elected public official running for re-election, I have myriad obligations and responsibilities during the weeks and months immediately preceding the general election date that will severely limit my availability,” Nichols wrote in a declaration.
“I will need to attend public election events, participate in forums and debates, and be generally available to the media and interested voters in order to inform the public about my record and positions as the Prosecuting Attorney.”
Tina Hendrickson, a former office manager in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma last year against Nichols alleging he sexually harassed her for two years.
In her lawsuit, Hendrickson said she was denied a raise because she had rejected Nichols’ “romantic and sexual overtures” between April 2015 and April 2017.
Michael, of Seattle-based Michael & Alexander PLLC, filed an answer to Hendrickson’s lawsuit June 30.
In it, Nichols admits that he told Hendrickson that he “would be interested in a romantic relationship” with her but denied allegations of wrongdoing.
Hendrickson’s attorney, Terry Venneberg, said he was preparing to file a motion in opposition of the proposed delay today.
“The trial date was set in September and this request is made in April,” Venneberg said. “We believe lack of diligence has been shown in the request and it also in our view would substantially prejudice Ms. Hendrickson.”
Venneberg said that as of Monday there had not been any settlement negotiations and that he is sticking to the pre-trial schedule.
Michael said she doubts there would be a settlement in this case and said it is likely to go to trial.
Michael argues in the motion to continue the trial that Nichols has “diligently prepared for trial,” but Michael has been scheduled for another jury trial that conflicts with the Oct. 16 trial.
Michael also argues in the filing that the Oct. 16 trial would cause “extreme hardship” for Nichols because of multiple regularly scheduled work engagements and the general election.
In a joint status report and discovery plan filed in September, both sides detailed potential trial date conflicts.
Michael said in an interview it’s not uncommon for different courts to set cases for the same time.
When preparing the joint-status report, she was unaware of whether Nichols would be running for re-election, she said.
“Whether he had made a decision [in September] I can’t tell you,” she said. “Certainly he has announced he is running, so it is clearly a conflict.”
She said her conflicting trial date and Nichols’ campaign were the two “big ones,” but the motion also identified other conflicts.
Each year Nichols instructs a professional course at the Sheriff’s Advanced Civil School, which would conflict with the trial, court papers say.
Nichols, appointed by the governor, serves on the Forensic Investigations Council, which oversees and controls the operation and establishes policies for the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.
Nichols wrote that he has a FIC meeting in Seattle and that his absence could create a hardship for the council and the Crime Lab.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].