When Douglas County Chief Financial Officer Jessica Hansen sued Douglas County Assessor Roger Hartman in August, she also named Hartman’s friend Larry Saccato as a defendant.
Last week, Saccato came out swinging. He not only denied Hansen’s allegations, but filed a counterclaim in Douglas County Circuit Court against her, along with two county commissioners, the county’s human resources director and a former county I-T director. He seeks $2.5 million in non-economic damages, plus $6,500 in economic damages.
Saccato denied Hansen’s claim that he conspired along with three other defendants to harass Hansen after she first complained about Hartman. One of the claims against Saccato revolves around his filing public information requests with the county. Hansen describes those requests as “retaliatory,” while Saccato said they are a basic public right. That’s why on Oct. 3, the same day he filed his counterclaim, Saccato filed an anti-SLAPP lawsuit asking the court to strike Hansen’s claims against him.
The Douglas County Chief Financial Officer is suing the county, Douglas County Commissioner …
SLAPP is an acronym for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” An anti-SLAPP suit protects a defendant against a lawsuit intended to discourage him from exercising his right to petition or free speech, or in this case, make public information requests.
Hansen’s lawsuit alleged that Hartman, County Commissioner Gary Leif, Assessment Manager Frank Lassen and Saccato conspired to retaliate against Hansen after she blew the whistle on Hartman. She had reported alleged problems with Hartman’s ethics and competence, and also charged he made inappropriate gender-related insults about her.
In his counterclaim, Saccato named as defendants the other two county commissioners, Tim Freeman and Chris Boice, along with Hansen, Human Resources Director Michael Kurtz and former I-T Director Kevin Potter. He said that group conspired to create “false and misleading” memorandums about Hartman that also defamed Saccato.
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Those memos were leaked to The News-Review in October 2016, and made a number of allegations about Hartman, including that he had driven off competent employees, shown favoritism to friends and business associates when assessing property values and had called Hansen a “bitch” and other names.
The county followed up by hiring independent consultant Jill Goldsmith, who concluded Hartman had retaliated against Hansen. Saccato’s name appeared prominently in Goldsmith’s report, although, according to Saccato, she never interviewed him personally. Goldsmith asserted Saccato had been part of a conspiracy to harass Hansen. She wrote that Hartman directed Saccato to submit retaliatory public records requests to the county. And she said that Saccato used the information he gathered to argue Hansen wasn’t qualified as CFO because she hadn’t obtained a bond and signed an oath of office. He alleged that when she sent out tax bills before doing those things, she committed mail fraud.
Goldsmith called that whistle-blower retaliation against Hansen, but Saccato said he hopes the judge in this case will determine whether Hansen has taken the steps necessary to be the county’s CFO and tax collector.
Larry Saccato isn’t a county employee, so he was surprised to find out that he’d been named …
In Saccato’s view, it’s the county and its officials who have retaliated against him. His counterclaim said Goldsmith was hired to “prepare a report, with a preconceived outcome, which contained derogatory, misleading and plainly false information about Saccato.”
“I just feel like I’ve had a lot of damage done to me,” Saccato told The News-Review Monday. He said all he wants is for the county to get things right.
In addition to seeking damages, Saccato’s counterclaim sides with Hartman’s assertion that the county overtaxed county residents $14 million over a five-year period. The claim asks that money be refunded to taxpayers, along with treble damages.
“I really feel that Roger went in there and Roger meant to do a good job. He’s one of the most honest guys that I’ve ever met, and he’s just been getting lambasted,” Saccato said.
Freeman referred questions to Steve Zier, assistant county counsel, who said the county can’t comment on the pending lawsuit. Boice also declined comment for this story. The News-Review was unable to reach Kurtz or Potter for comment.