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Handy gets limited win in legal fight.

Byline: Saul Hubbard The Register-Guard

Former Lane County Commissioner Rob Handy has won a small victory in his two-year legal battle over how county officials handled election-eve misconduct allegations against him.

A federal appeals court ruled last week that Handy could file an amended version of a lawsuit that was originally dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken in early 2013.

In her original ruling, Aiken found that Handy's lawsuit failed to establish a case under federal law against the defendants, County Commissioners Jay Bozievich, Sid Leiken and Faye Stewart, and former county Administrator Liane Richardson, now Inkster.

Aiken also deemed that the restrictions the county placed on Handy during a state Department of Justice investigation into the misconduct allegations - including locking him out of his office and his email account - were "relatively minor" and did not infringe on his free speech or other constitutional rights, as he alleged.

Aiken then denied an attempt by Handy's attorney, Marianne Dugan, to amend the lawsuit. Dugan claimed Aiken misunderstood the suit's arguments.

In a narrow ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that Aiken should have allowed Dugan to file an amended complaint, because "a review of the record does not reveal that the complaint could not have been saved by amendment."

The appeals court, however, also wrote that Aiken was correct in her main ruling that Handy's original lawsuit failed to prove his claims that county officials had retaliated against Handy for exercising his free speech rights or that they had violated his due process rights.

The misconduct allegations themselves centered on Handy soliciting and receiving donations from county residents, while in office, to pay down a personal $20,000 legal debt. They surfaced on the eve of the May 2012 election, where Handy lost his county commissioner seat, by a substantial margin, to Pat Farr.

The state Department of Justice later declined to file criminal charges against Handy over the matter and the state Ethics Commission, after investigating Handy's actions, didn't levy any penalties.

Handy, meanwhile, filed three lawsuits against the county and county officials over their handling of the misconduct allegations - none of which has been successful so far.

Handy has dropped an unsuccessful public records case. But he is still appealing the federal case and a case in state court that alleges the county and the same three commissioners violated Oregon public meetings law.

In a prepared statement about the federal appeals court's ruling, Handy said: "We filed this suit to bring attention to the politicization of the offices of the Lane County commissioners and how those in power misused that power to further a political agenda. The three commissioners named in the lawsuit are still in office and the concerns remain valid."

Handy referred all questions to Dugan, his attorney.

Lane County officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, spokeswoman Anne Marie Levis said.

Dugan said she expects to file an amended complaint next month. Dugan said the new complaint will clarify what she perceives as the main misunderstanding in Aiken's original ruling: that the county's alleged actions impinged not only on Handy's "right to run for re-election, but also the right to enjoy 'the benefits and priveleges' associated with the county commissioner position" both before and after the election.

For example, Dugan said the restrictions placed on Handy prevented him from holding regular office hours for his constituents and accessing the files on his work computer, which she said were key functions of his job as an elected official.

"It seemed the court didn't get what we were saying," Dugan said of Aiken's original dismissal.

Handy's amended complaint will also go to Aiken - at least initially.

Follow Saul on Twitter @SaulAHubbard. Email saul.hubbard@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Lane County Government; The former Lane County commissioner will be allowed to file an amended version of his lawsuit
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 30, 2014
Words:625
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