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Andersen v. Valley County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 26, 2017

VALLEY COUNTY, an Idaho municipal corporation; SKIP CLAPP, individually; SKIP CLAPP, in his official capacity as an employee of Valley County; and in his individual capacity; RON JENKS, in his official capacity as an employee of Valley County and in his individual capacity; KENNETH ARMENT, individually; KENNETH ARMENT, in his official capacity as an employee of Valley County, and in his individual capacity; and DOES 1-25, inclusive, in the individual, official corporate, municipal and governmental capacities, yet to be named, Defendants.


          Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Valley County's and Kenneth Arment's[1]motion to disqualify Plaintiff Christine Andersen's counsel and former Valley County Prosecuting Attorney, Matthew Williams. The Court heard oral argument from the parties on May 25, 2017. After review of the record, consideration of the parties' arguments and relevant legal authorities, and otherwise being fully advised, the Court issues the following memorandum decision and order granting Defendants' motion.[2]


         To better understand the motion to disqualify, the Court will set forth separately: (1) the background giving rise to Andersen's employment action against Valley County (“County”); and (2) a timeline containing relevant facts of Williams's role as the Valley County Prosecuting Attorney.

         I. Andersen's Employment with Valley County[3]

         On July 26, 2004, Valley County hired Andersen as a juvenile probation officer. The juvenile probation officer position is part of the County's Court Services Office; the Court Services Director is the direct supervisor of probation officers. From 2004 through 2013, Andersen had one disciplinary mark on her record: in January of 2013, Andersen was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan by her then supervisor, Doug Miller, related to timeliness of returning telephone calls, and delivery and filing of documents.[4]

         In October of 2013, the County hired Defendant Skip Clapp as the Court Services Director. In September of 2014, Andersen reported to Human Resource Director, Defendant Kenneth Arment, inappropriate comments allegedly made by Clapp to a probation client, which instigated an internal investigation led by Arment. Andersen alleges this incident caused Clapp to retaliate against her.

         Later the same month, Clapp contracted with a new mental health treatment provider for Court Services; the new provider delivered its services to clients by videoconference. Andersen believed many of her probation clients needed treatment in an in-person capacity, and thus, referred certain clients to a different treatment provider. When Clapp learned Andersen had not referred all of her clients to the video-provider, Clapp threatened to “write-up” Andersen. However, Andersen continued to refer her high risk clients to in-person providers. On or about December 18, 2014, Clapp sent Andersen home on leave pending an investigation regarding a complaint filed against her by her co-worker, Defendant Ron Jenks. Andersen was terminated from her employment on December 29, 2014, with the “exit reason” violation of County policy.

         On December 26, 2016, Andersen filed her Complaint against the County, Clapp, Arment, and Jenks, alleging violations of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Dkt. 1.) She alleges also a Monell claim against the County for negligent hiring, negligent retention, failure to discipline, and failure to train, in addition to several state law claims.

         II. Williams as County Prosecuting Attorney

         On August 6, 2004, Williams was appointed Valley County Prosecuting Attorney. Dec. Williams, ¶ 13 (Dkt. 26 at 3). In December of 2007, Williams hired Defendant Arment as a deputy prosecuting attorney. Id. at ¶ 15; Dec. Arment, ¶ 2 (Dkt. 13 at 2). From his employment as Prosecuting Attorney, Williams contends he is aware of one disciplinary action taken against Arment-a written warning for performance deficiencies issued to Arment by Williams. Dec. Williams, ¶ 17, (Dkt. 26 at 4). Williams opines now that “Arment was the single worst hiring decision I made while serving in my capacity as Valley County Prosecutor, and the only employee I ever had to reprimand for failing to show up to work on a consistent basis.” Id.

         During Williams's first term as Prosecuting Attorney, the County did not have a department handling the human resources function for County employees. Id. at ¶ 87. As a result, some duties were handled by the Prosecutor's Office. Id. During this time, Williams acknowledges the Prosecutor's Office consulted with other departments on some human resources issues regarding discipline and termination. Id. at ¶ 90. However, Williams contends none of the named Defendants in this lawsuit were the subject of any of these disciplinary or termination matters. Id. at ¶ 87. Williams's duties changed sometime in 2008 or 2009, when the County Treasurer began handling the human resources function. Id. at ¶ 89.

         During his first seven years as Prosecuting Attorney (2004 through 2011), Williams did function, at least some of the time, as counsel for the County in civil as well as criminal matters.[5] Dec. Williams, ¶ 45 (Dkt. 7). His civil representation included providing advice to the County on personnel and human resources issues. Id. During this period, however, Williams recalls only one instance where he consulted with then Court Services Director, Doug Miller, on a personnel matter. Id. at ¶ 46. The incident tangentially involved Defendant Clapp, who was cleared of any wrong doing and was never charged or disciplined for the incident. Id. at ¶ 48.

         On January 13, 2013, Williams left his position as Prosecuting Attorney. Dec. Williams, ¶ 5. (Dkt. 26 at 2). On the same day, the Board turned over two of its three members. The remaining Board member, Gordon Cruickshank, has been on the Board since 2007. Cruickshank alleges he sought counsel from Williams on numerous occasions prior to January of 2013, as often as once per week, while he served as Prosecuting Attorney. Dec. Cruickshank, ¶¶ 3-4 (Dkt. 27-1 at 2). According to Cruickshank, when the Court hired outside counsel to handle employment disputes, Williams was present during conversations discussing details concerning certain unspecified facts, law, and strategies. Id. at ¶ 8.

         In October of 2013, Clapp was hired as the Director of Court Services. Dec. Clapp, ¶ 2 (Dkt. 6 at 2); Compl., ¶ 5.9 (Dkt. 1 at 6). And, on June 1, 2014, Arment was hired from his deputy prosecuting position into the position of ...

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