Lincoln County has lost in court over an allegation that a man, protesting his county worker father being put on administrative leave, was improperly kicked off courthouse property and wrongly jailed when he repeatedly returned to distribute protest posters.
Matt Zekan was arrested and jailed on a charge of trespassing.
According to County Counsel Wayne Belmont, the charges were dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office, after it was learned that case law on the procedures in issuing exclusion orders under state law were changed by the Oregon Court of Appeals. That court decision was made after the exclusion order was issued, but before Mr. Zekan was arrested. Mr. Zekan, according to Belmont, was therefore not provided the necessary due process to challenge the exclusion order under the Court of Appeals’ ruling.
Belmont reports that the insurance company will pay $140,000 to Zekan and his attorneys on behalf of the County. In addition, the County has issued an apology to Mr. Zekan for errors in the procedures it used in the exclusion order barring Mr. Zekan from certain County offices. The County recognized and admitted this mistake early in the litigation. Wayne Belmont, County Counsel, added however, that the settlement in no way invalidated the original concerns of the County employees that led to the exclusion order.
Mr. Belmont reported to the Board that the costs of litigating this matter, especially the risk of potential additional attorneys’ fees paid to Zekan’s attorneys if he prevailed at trial, weighed heavily in the insurance company’s business decision to settle.
Attorneys’ fees would not have been awarded to the County if it prevailed in the litigation.