Defendants call lawsuit by Emersons 'frivolous'

The attorneys for a former Island County commissioner and two county employees claim that a lawsuit filed against them by County Commissioner Kelly Emerson and her husband late last year was “frivolous and asserted without good cause.”

On Jan. 4, Seattle attorneys Mark Johnsen and Timothy Parker, who represent the county through the risk pool, filed an answer and affirmative defenses to the Emersons’ lawsuit in Island County Superior Court. They request that the court dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice and order the Emersons to pay their attorneys fees and costs.

The lawsuit and related issues could become very expensive for the Emersons if they’re not successful in court. They filed the lawsuit last November instead of following an enforcement order sent by the county planning department regarding construction projects in their backyard that were allegedly done without a permit and within a critical area. The county’s code enforcement officer sent them a letter earlier this year stating they were being assessed $37,000 for alleged violations of the county building code, critical areas ordinances and zoning ordinance.

Among the affirmative defenses, county’s attorneys claim that some of the defendants weren’t properly served, the defendants are immune from liability, the Emersons didn’t comply with state law in first filing a claim for damages, and the Emersons’ damages, if any, “were caused by their own negligence and intentional violation of law.”

No hearing has been set on the matter yet.

Kelly Emerson was a Republican candidate for county commission when she and her husband, Kenneth, filed a lawsuit on the day before the election last year. The lawsuit named her political opponent, former Commissioner John Dean, Planning Department Director Bob Pederson and building inspector Ron Slechta as defendants.

In the lawsuit, the Emersons claimed civil rights violations, defamation and violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act. Specifically, the lawsuit claims the defendants acted in concert and with political motivation in issuing a stop-work order on a backyard structure the Emersons were building without a permit.

In addition, the lawsuit claims the building inspector trespassed on the Emersons’ property and that Dean defamed Emerson in a campaign mailer related to the controversy.

The answer by the county’s attorneys, however, denies point-by-point that county officials did anything inappropriate. It states, for example, that the building inspector didn’t need a search warrant to go on the Emersons’ property.

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