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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: City reaches settlement with mental health counselor

5/16/2011  12:30:00 PM
Kimberly Mills  (206) 684-8602

The City of Seattle and a mental health counselor have reached a $125,000 settlement that resolves the last claim in the counselor’s lawsuit against his former employer, Sound Mental Health, and Joni Wilson, a probation manager in Municipal Court.

In a federal lawsuit filed in March 2008, Richard Clairmont alleged that Wilson threatened to stop sending referrals to Sound Mental Health. Clairmont’s program was certified by the state to treat perpetrators of domestic violence, including those court-ordered to attend treatment. After Clairmont testified in Municipal Court about his treatment philosophy, Wilson complained to his employer, Sound Mental Health, that his philosophy was inconsistent with the goal of holding offenders accountable. Sound Mental Health subsequently fired Clairmont. The claim against Wilson was initially dismissed in federal court but then remanded for trial by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In civil rights claims like Clairmont’s, even if the jury awards a nominal amount, such as $1, to the plaintiff, the defendant is obligated to pay attorneys’ fees. The City believes these fees could exceed $300,000 in such a case. Rather than risk that, the City, on Wilson’s behalf, agreed to the settlement of $125,000. The entire settlement amount was paid to Clairmont’s attorneys. Clairmont received nothing.

From the City’s perspective, Wilson’s obligation to speak up for victims of domestic violence equals Clairmont’s right to testify about his clinical opinions. Probation counselors are in a position to evaluate which offenders are attending counseling sessions and showing progress. They also know which offenders are failing to attend, sometimes for months, but still are being marked as “compliant” by a treatment provider. Questionable compliance determinations were at issue with the program Clairmont supervised.

The lawsuit is Richard Clairmont v. Sound Mental Health and Joni Wilson in U.S. District Court.

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