Four years after filing a whistleblower lawsuit, a former Ada County department head got to see his case go before a jury.
After a one-week trial and two hours of deliberation, that jury on Tuesday awarded Rich Wright $1.74 million, according to his attorney, Eric Rossman.
Wright, a former TV journalist and Boise police spokesman, was Ada County’s spokesman from 2006 to 2008, when he was promoted to lead the Department of Administration. He was fired Jan. 15, 2013, the day after newly elected commissioners Dave Case and Jim Tibbs were sworn into office.
The next month, Wright filed a $1.5 million lawsuit, claiming he was fired, in part, for ordering an investigation into allegations that a manager with the commissioners’ office was harassing employees. He said commissioners retaliated because the employee, who ultimately resigned, was a friend of former Ada County Commissioner Vern Bisterfeldt and took part in Case’s and Tibbs’ 2012 election campaigns.
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Wright said Case told him there were no performance issues with his work and his position was being eliminated as part of a reorganization. Wright’s position was the only job cut.
County officials have said Wright’s firing was legal because he was an at-will employee who could be dismissed without cause.
A district judge in Boise granted the county’s request for summary judgment and dismissed the case in January 2015, saying Wright’s claims did not fall under the Whistleblower Act. Wright appealed. Last July, the Idaho Supreme Court upheld part of the ruling but sent the case back to trial court on other parts.
“This case has dominated four years of my life and to now have a unanimous verdict from the jury makes it all worth it,” Wright told the Statesman. “I stood up for what was right and I hope this sends a clear message to all public employees that they have rights. Dave Case and Jim Tibbs broke the law when they retaliated against me the jury saw that.”
Wright will ask for the court to also award him attorney’s fees, Rossman said.
The county did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the county, it has spent $197,730 through February defending the lawsuit.