Judge agrees on Brocato rulings

By Jayson Jacoby, The Baker City Herald



A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed all but one of the issues raised in a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by Steve Brocato after he was fired from his job as Baker City manager in June 2009.

Brocato filed the lawsuit in May 2010 against the city and four City Council members Dennis Dorrah, Beverly Calder, Aletha Bonebrake and Clair Button, and Baker City resident Gary Dielman.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman wrote in an opinion and order issued Friday that he would adopt the findings and recommendations of Federal Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan as his own.

Sullivan issued her recommendations in January and they were then reviewed by Mosman before he issued his opinion Friday.

Mosman and Sullivan both denied the city and councilors' motions for summary judgment on Brocato's "deprivation of liberty" claim. Brocato alleges the four council members made false statements against him, which made it difficult for him to find another job. He also contends that the city did not give him a "name-clearing hearing," which he says he was entitled to.

Sullivan wrote in her recommendations that those issues are matters for a jury to consider.

Mosman granted summary judgment to Dielman, dismissing all claims Brocato had made against him.

Mosman also ruled in favor of the council members and the city on all other issues raised in the lawsuit, dismissing Brocato's claims that he was fired while acting as a whistleblower protected by state law and that the city and council members intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Brocato, that he was wrongfully discharged, that they intentionally interfered with his economic relations, that they defamed him and placed him in a false light and conspired against him.

Mosman noted in his ruling that the city and the councilors raised several objections to Sullivan's recommendation that he deny their motion for summary judgment regarding the "deprivation of liberty interest."

Brocato also raised objections to Sullivan's recommendations. He maintained that she erred in her findings that his whistleblower claim should be dismissed because he was not serving an "important public duty."

Brocato alleges that the council was angry and fired him after he sought an opinion from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission in April 2009 regarding a possible conflict of interest over a proposed property maintenance ordinance. In May 2009, Brocato asked the city's community service officer to inspect each councilor's property to determine if any would be affected by changes to the ordinance.

Brocato also objected to Sullivan's findings that the "Councilors' defamatory statements about Brocato were made in the course and scope of their employment."

"Councilors were serving on the City Council and addressed matters that were directly related to their positions as Councilors," Sullivan wrote as part of her 27-page findings and recommendations issued in January.

Councilors are protected from liability by the Oregon Tort Claims Act, she wrote.

Brocato also objected to Sullivan's finding that Dielman's criticism of him in letters to the editor and in emails sent to Jennifer Watkins, former assistant city manager, were opinion and as such are protected by the First Amendment.

"I have reviewed the briefings and the record and find the parties' objections unpersuasive," Mosman wrote in his opinion and order, adding that he agreed with Sullivan's recommendation.

The Baker City Herald
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