Trial briefs, jury instructions expected today in Clallam harassment case

SEATTLE — Trial briefs and jury instructions will be presented in federal court today in preparation for a Dec. 11 trial that will determine if newly re-elected Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols sexually harassed his former friend, employee and admitted romantic interest, Tina Hendrickson.

The cost of representing Nichols so far in the case is $171,183, according to county records.

In a Nov. 7 ruling, Western Federal District Court Judge Benjamin Settle narrowed the scope of testimony and evidence he will allow at the Dec. 11 trial on the federal complaint against Nichols, accused of harassing and inappropriately touching Hendrickson, his former office manager, between April 2015 and April 2017.

In the ruling, Settle blocked Nichols’ lawyers from obtaining Hendrickson’s medical records.

In a ruling Nov. 6, Settle agreed with Nichols’ and Hendrickson’s lawyers to omit reference or mention that Nichols was granted a trial continuance until after the Nov. 6 general election and evidence related to Nichols’ financial status or alleged wealth of his family, not including his own financial status or alleged wealth.

Also omitted will be evidence related to any prior lawsuit or Equal Employment Opportunity matters involving Clallam County to which Nichols was not a party, any reference or mention that Nichols or the county is represented by a “‘large’” or ‘“big’” or ‘“Seattle’” law firm, or evidence of possible liability coverage by the Washington Counties Risk Pool.

The Risk Pool is covering Nichols’ legal expenses under a county policy that has a deductible of $100,000 per case, Rich Sill, human resources director-interim county administrator, said Monday.

“The pool picks up anything over and above that for covered issues,” Sill said, adding that the risk pool is consulted on legal decisions in the case.

The deductible is paid out of the human resources-risk management budget.

Terry Venneberg of Gig Harbor, representing Hendrickson, had sought a protective order preventing Nichols’ lawyer from issuing and serving subpoenas for Hendrickson’s health care records.

Nichols said in a deposition that Hendrickson had alluded to mental health issues within her family.

Seattle lawyer Suzanne Michael of the national law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP, representing Nichols, outlined what she was seeking in an Oct. 26 notice to Olympic Medical Center required by law as a prelude to issuing a subpoena.

“The health care information includes but is not limited to communications and records from other health care providers, telephone messages/logs, narrative medical records, reports, notes, correspondence, memoranda, statements, counseling records, hospital records, billing statements, examinations, diagnostic testing psychological reports and medication prescription records,” according to the notice.

Michael warned that the subpoena would be served unless a protective order were issued, Michael said in the notice.

Venneberg said in his Oct. 28 motion for a protective order that it was “absolutely inappropriate” under the federal rules of civil procedure to seek discovery of evidence after the Aug. 13 deadline.

Settle has yet to rule on excluding other evidence for the trial.

As a civil and not a criminal case, Hendrickson must convince a jury of her assertion by a preponderance of evidence, not the higher criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nichols has denied Hendrickson’s allegations

Nichols was a family friend of Hendrickson’s when he hired her to be his office manager after he asked her to apply for the position and shortly after his 2014 election victory, according to court records.

She filed the June 1, 2017, federal complaint the same month that she left her county job and five months after she was, she said, unfairly denied a raise because she had rejected Nichols’ “romantic and sexual” overtures.

Nichols has admitted being interested in a romantic relationship and denied her claims of harassment and of touching her buttocks, which she alleged in an amended complaint that she filed five weeks after filing the original complaint.

Hendrickson is seeking unspecified punitive damages, court costs and attorney’s fees.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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