Prosecutor's sexual harassment trial delayed until after election

Tina Hendrickson believes the citizens of Clallam County have a right to know the outcome of her lawsuit before casting their votes.

Hendrickson is suing Clallam County Prosecutor Mark Nichols for alleged sexual harassment.  Nichols is currently running for re-election as the county’s top law enforcement official.

“It was set for trial before the election, and of course, I preferred that, because my case would be proven,” Hendrickson told KIRO 7 recently.

Hendrickson claims her former boss, elected Clallam County Prosecutor Mark Nichols, violated her civil rights when she was his office manager.

Her federal civil complaint alleges "Nichols made romantic and sexual overtures" regularly telling Hendrickson "that he was deeply in love with her" and that he would not let her "leave her office until she had given him a hug."

According to Hendrickson, that kind of behavior “happened all the time” in and out of the Prosecutor’s Office in Port Angeles.  “It just didn’t matter how many times I said no,” she claims.

Hendrickson filed a complaint with Human Resources, and according to her lawsuit, "Clallam County failed to take appropriate remedial action.”

Instead, Hendrickson was placed on indefinite unpaid leave "for failing to return to the workplace, where she would continue to be exposed to contact with defendant Nichols" her complaint alleges.

Hendrickson’s "employment was terminated" two months later, in June of 2017.  She told KIRO 7, she hasn’t been able to find a new job because of the stigma association with suing her former boss.  “My life is changed forever.  My career, my friends, my entire life,” Hendrickson said.

Nichols -- who has been in office for nearly four years -- denies any wrong-doing.

In documents filed by his attorney, Suzanne Kelly Michael of Michael & Alexander PLLC of Seattle, the Prosecutor -- who is not married -- admits "he told the plaintiff he would be interested in a romantic relationship" with Hendrickson "if she decided to divorce her husband" but denies he sexually harassed her or that he was responsible for her termination.

Robin Nielsen of Workplace Consulting in Seattle was hired by the county to investigate and in May of 2017 found Nichols' romantic overtures "did not create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."

Nichols' trial was scheduled to start in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on October 16th.

However, he and his lawyer asked to have the trial continued "to a date after November 9th" in part because the trial dates "immediately precede the 2018 general election date, during which the Defendant has extremely limited availability due to his obligations as an elected public official," according to court documents.

U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle agreed to delay the trial until December 11th, which is after the general election.

Hendrickson’s lawyer, Terry Venneberg of Gig Harbor, told KIRO 7 he would have been ready for trial in October and believes there would have been a verdict by election day.

“If I were a voter in Clallam County, I would want to know the facts,” Venneberg said.  “I’d want those facts to be outlined in a trial.  I’d want to hear the evidence on both sides, and I would want to make a conclusion on that before I made a decision about who would be my elected prosecutor for the next four years.”

When Hendrickson learned the trial had been delayed until after election day she told KIRO 7 she thought “he wins again.  He’s more important than I am.  His election is more important than I am.”

Michaels denied KIRO 7’s requests for an on-camera interview with her and Nichols.

KIRO 7 also asked for Judge Settle’s comments about his decision to delay the trial of an elected official running for re-election -- until after election day -- but he did not respond.

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