A dispute between two Douglas County government officials that mushroomed to a nine-party lawsuit in 2017 has mostly been resolved.
But two of the litigants — Douglas County Chief Financial Officer Jessica Hansen and Larry Saccato — are still battling it out in court.
It all began shortly after Roger Hartman took office as Douglas County assessor in 2015. Hansen and Hartman were at odds from the start. She argued Hartman harassed her, using gender-based insults and making it difficult to do her job. She also reported him for alleged ethics violations. Hartman said he found Hansen controlling and bureaucratic, but that he hadn’t harassed her.
After she complained, Hansen alleged that Hartman and a group of his friends worked together to harass her. The four became the defendants in Hansen’s 2017 lawsuit, which alleged they were part of a conspiracy to retaliate against her for blowing the whistle on Hartman.
Three members of that group were county employees — Hartman, assessor’s department employee Frank Lassen and then-county commissioner Gary Leif. The fourth was Larry Saccato, who was not a county employee.
Saccato countersued against Hansen, the county, Douglas County Commissioners Tim Freeman and Chris Boice, and two other county officials. He has since dropped that countersuit.
In June, the county government settled with Hansen for $120,000 plus $20,000 in legal fees.
Hansen subsequently dropped her suit against Leif, Lassen and Hartman. Hartman retired from his elected office in July, five months before his term was up. He gave no reason for his decision at the time, but a Jan. 17 declaration by Hansen attorney Donald Johnson suggests his leaving was connected to Hansen’s decision to drop her lawsuit against him.
“(A)n opportunity arose to assist with Mr. Hartman’s departure from the county ... An agreement was reached, which resulted in the resignation by Mr. Hartman from his position with the County,” Johnson wrote.
Then there was Saccato.
It’s plain from court documents that Saccato and Hansen view each other as unreasonable. Hansen asserted Saccato joined a group effort to harass her, and that his continuing to fight after she moved to dismiss her case against him amounts to more harassment. Saccato argued Hansen shouldn’t have sued him in the first place, and she should pay his attorneys for the trouble she caused.
Saccato initially acted as his own lawyer in the case, but in July 2018 he was the last defendant remaining. It was then that he hired attorneys Benjamin Boyd and Rahn Hostetter of the Enterprise law firm Hostetter Law Group to represent him.
Saccato wanted out of the suit at that point, Boyd asserted in a response filed Jan. 28. But he said a settlement offer wasn’t received until October.
Johnson wrote Hansen had difficulty deciding whether to dismiss Saccato from the lawsuit. When she finally agreed to do so, Johnson asserted, Saccato “made the process more difficult than it needed to be.”
“I have no doubt that this was done intentionally in order to exact some degree of vengeance on Ms. Hansen,” he wrote.
Boyd said Hansen brought a whistle-blower suit against Saccato in “bad faith.” In November, the court agreed with Saccato that he couldn’t be sued for whistle-blower retaliation because he wasn’t Hansen’s employer or a county employee. In December, the court dismissed the case against Saccato.
But that didn’t end things.
By that time, Saccato had racked up some hefty attorney’s fees and argued Hansen should pay them. Those legal fees are the issue that’s keeping the parties in court. Saccato’s lawyers said he’s racked up about $9,000 in fees. A hearing on that issue is scheduled for April 10.
In the meantime, the debate over which party was harassing the other appears to have spilled over to include the lawyers.
In his Jan. 17 declaration, Johnson characterized communications with Saccato’s lawyers as “difficult at best.”
“It was clear to me that speaking with them and trying (to) reason with them toward a simple solution was never going to happen,” he said.
Boyd, in a Jan. 4 declaration, said Johnson expressed disdain for both Saccato and Hostetter. Boyd asserted that Johnson “blustered that if Saccato wanted an all-out-war, that he was prepared to give an all-out-war to Saccato and an all-out-war Saccato would get.”