Discrimination Suit in Washington State Takes Bizarre Turn

A lawyer suing the Vancouver (WA) Fire Department for discrimination has gotten himself in a bit of a pickle.

Attorney Thomas Boothe stands accused of contempt of court following a mistrial in a Federal court jury trial. Boothe was trying the case on behalf of former Vancouver Fire Department employee Rolando Hernandez, who alleged race discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work place. Hernandez was seeking $2.5 million in damages.

The case dates back to 2006 and has already been up to the 9th Circuit once on appeal. The trial began on June 11, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

On the fourth day of the trial two jurors notified Judge Ronald Leighton that they observed Boothe “coaching” his witnesses while they were being cross-examined. In particular the jurors said they observed Boothe nodding and mouthing answers in response to questions posed to the witnesses, followed by the witnesses answering as Boothe instructed.

Judge Leighton also reported that Boothe may have intimidated a witness, a Vancouver city official, and may have forged a court document. He declared a mistrial, and informed Boothe he would have to appear before him in October to answer contempt charges.

As if the mistrial and the contempt citation were not enough, Boothe could face disciplinary action by the Washington Supreme Court (who oversees lawyers in the practice of law), and the Washington State Bar Association Disciplinary Counsel who investigates and prosecutes allegations of misconduct.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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