A lawsuit filed in 2015 by a former journalist against Baker City and its police chief has reached a preliminary settlement.
Brian Addison, who formerly worked as a reporter for The Record-Courier newspaper, sued Baker City and then-police chief Wyn Lohner in U.S. District Court alleging that they had retaliated against him after he wrote an editorial criticizing the police department.
Addison’s editorial was published in The Record-Courier in 2008. The longtime weekly newspaper has since ceased publication.
Addison’s attorney, Clifford S. Davidson of the Sussman Shank law firm in Portland, said Tuesday in a telephone interview that details of the settlement cannot be disclosed until they are finalized.
“Although the settlement ultimately will be public, I cannot get into the details at this time because communications during mediation are confidential,” he stated in an email to the Herald.
Addison’s lawsuit had been set to go to trial in U.S. District Court at Pendleton in August. The most recent docket entry, which was made on Thursday, recorded a 60-day order of dismissal.
That means Addison’s complaint will be dismissed with prejudice, unless the court is notified that an agreement has not been finalized within 60 days, Davidson said. A dismissal with prejudice means the issue is finished and cannot be brought back to court.
Davidson said he expects details of the settlement to be finalized well within the 60-day limit.
Addison’s lawsuit sought damages to be determined at trial on claims that the City and Lohner retaliated against his freedom of speech rights by harassing him for what he had written in the editorial for The Record-Courier.
The editorial was titled “How About a favorable Interpretation of the 4th Amendment.”
In it, Addison referred to the police department’s use of its drug-detecting dog during the 1A state basketball tournament, which he saw as a violation of constitutional protection against unr easonable search and seizure.
Addison’s lawsuit claimed that the City and Lohner interfered with his job opportunities, defamed him and deprived him of due process because of what he had written.
District Court Judge Michael H. Simon ruled in August 2017 that Lohner was not entitled to qualified immunity from Addison’s allegations.
Simon granted motions for summary judgment by Baker City and Lohner on federal claims alleging violation of procedural and substantive due process and Addison’s claim alleging personal liability against Lohner.
The complaint, which had been set to go to trial in April was postponed when the City’s attorney Robert E. Franz Jr. of Springfield appealed Simon’s ruling regarding Lohner’s entitlement to qualified immunity.
Simon’s decision was upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruling issued in November 2018.
The three-judge panel affirmed Simon’s decision that Lohner violated Addison’s First Amendment right after Addison published the editorial criticizing the police department. The judges found that Lohner “engaged in a campaign of harassment” against Addison because of what he had written.
The Appeals Court judges found that Lohner is not protected in his role as a police officer to use his authority to retaliate against and harass individuals exercising their right to free speech.
See more in the May 1, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.