State Politics

Key witnesses can disprove state worker’s claims of abusive, violent boss, attorney says

The Idaho Statehouse in Boise.
The Idaho Statehouse in Boise. Idaho Statesman file

Investigators hired by the Idaho State Controller’s Office talked to a top administrator accused of sexual and racial harassment, but they did not interview any witnesses who could rebut parts of the harassment claims, the former administrator’s attorney said Friday.

Dan Goicoechea — at the time the chief of staff, the No. 2 role in the office — was given the choice to resign after the investigation finished. He did so on Aug. 11 and immediately went to work at the State Department of Education as deputy for governmental affairs. He left that job on Sept. 18, the same day former Controller’s Office employee Lourdes Matsumoto filed a tort claim detailing the alleged harassment.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the office spent roughly $14,000 on outside attorneys from Boise law firm Hawley Troxell to prevent any conflicts of interest, because the office’s general counsel reported to the supervisor facing the allegations.

“I do not know what the goal of the investigation was,” Rory Jones, Goicoechea’s attorney, told the Statesman. “It clearly wasn’t to determine all of the facts. Until somebody talks to those witnesses, the other side of the picture will not be painted.”

Matsumoto was a deputy legal counsel and executive assistant to Controller Brandon Woolf. She filed a complaint with Brian Benjamin, general counsel for the office, on July 14 after what she described in the tort claim as a “hostile and aggressive” incident involving Goicoechea reprimanding her for a conversation with Woolf.

Before that time, Matsumoto made no mention of harassment and did not file any other “formal or informal” complaints about Goicoechea, the Controller’s Office said in a statement last week.

That, said Jones, is because no tension existed between Goicoechea and Matsumoto until the reprimand. Matsumoto said the incident was over her telling Woolf about a Department of Labor request to visit the Controller’s Office; Jones described it as actions Matsumoto took involving an Idaho Transportation Department employee.

Matsumoto’s tort claim details several jokes or off-color remarks Goicoechea allegedly made to, or in front of her, including details about Goicoechea’s personal life.

Third-party witnesses will portray a much different picture, Jones claimed.

“She participated in and instigated conversations about Dan interacting with members of the opposite sex,” Jones said.

In her claim, Matsumoto also lists numerous alleged examples of abusive language and violent acts by Goicoechea, in conversations involving her and/or multiple third parties. She accuses Woolf of either condoning or doing nothing to address that behavior.

Goicoechea resigned from both of his state government jobs because he did not want his bosses, elected officials Woolf and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, to be tarnished by the “false allegations,” Jones said.

The Controller’s Office claims that Matsumoto refused to participate in the investigation; Matsumoto’s attorney, Lauren Scholnick, said her client turned over detailed notes supporting her complaint. She resigned from her job on July 20.

The Controller’s Office also denied the tort claim’s allegations regarding it and Woolf — specifically “any allegations that it ‘condoned’ harassment in any way.” The office “will defend against those allegations vigorously,” a statement last week from the office said.

A tort claim serves as the precursor to a lawsuit against a government agency. Idaho statute gives the state 90 days to respond to the claim, either affirming or denying it. The complainant cannot file a lawsuit unless the state denies the claim or the 90 days runs out without a response, Jones said.

The document said Matsumoto would release her claim if the following happened by Sept. 22: Goicoechea was removed from any supervisory role in state government; she received a lump-sum payment of $191,500; and the Controller’s Office made several other changes.

It was unclear Friday when and how the state will respond to the claim.

The claim is filed against the Controller’s Office, not Goicoechea, so he does not get to respond to the claim, Jones said. But Goicoechea and others would be able to serve as witnesses during any possible lawsuit, “and a much different picture will be painted of what happened here,” Jones said.

“The nature of the process is one-sided at the start. She gets to put all this stuff down and make these claims,” Jones said.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell