Employee Alleged 9 Years of Sexual Harassment by Judge in Claim Settled Out of Court

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

Lewis County settled a claim out of court in 2017 from a former employee alleging nine years of sexual harassment by former Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt.

Hunt, who denies all of the allegations, filed a request for an injunction Thursday in Lewis County Superior Court to stop the county from releasing the records to The Chronicle without first redacting several lines of personal medical information.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 1 in Cowlitz County Superior Court.

As a result, The Chronicle has not yet obtained details of the original complaint, tort claim or settlement, but Hunt’s request filed with the Lewis County Clerk’s Office gives insight into the contents of the unreleased documents.

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Judge Nelson E. Hunt
Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson E. Hunt poses for a portrait in a courtroom at the Lewis County Law and Justice Center.

The Chronicle / File Photo

In 2016, former Lewis County Drug Court Manager Jennifer Soper-Baker filed a tort claim with Lewis County regarding alleged harassment, Hunt wrote.

“The claim is 10 pages in length and essentially divided into two parts. The first part alleges that the judges and other official (sic) of Lewis County failed to adequately protect her when she was feeling threatened by a coworker,” he wrote. “The second section alleged that for nine years, 2007 to 2016, that the plaintiff (Hunt) engaged in a course of sexual harassment.”

According to Hunt, the county rejected the tort claim.

However, Soper-Baker and her legal counsel shared a draft complaint, a document filed as part of a lawsuit, with the county. It repeated the allegations in the tort claim, Hunt wrote, adding that he “vehemently” denied any sexual harassment occurred.

The matter went into mediation, according to Hunt’s request for an injunction, and the County Risk Pool, which insures Lewis County, agreed on a settlement.

The Chronicle filed a public records request asking for documents related to the complaint and the settlement by Lewis County on Dec. 21.

Lewis County’s Public Disclosure Manager Casey Mauermann confirmed through emails that the items are disclosable; however, state law allows a person or agency named in a public record the right to file a request for an injunction to stop the release of records that “would clearly not be in the public interest and would substantially and irreparably damage any person, or would substantially and irreparably damage vital government functions.”

The Chronicle learned Wednesday a person planned to file a request for an injunction. Hunt filed the request Thursday.

Hunt’s request asks for the redaction of a few small paragraphs of “sensitive” material related to “protected, personal medical information.”

“Judge Hunt is asking only that this information be redacted from the requested documents, meaning that he agrees the remaining, vast majority of the allegations are subject to disclosure regardless of the truth or falsity of those remaining allegations,” Hunt’s request states.

The Chronicle was unable to contact Soper-Baker or Hunt.

This is the second recent claim of workplace harassment involving a Lewis County Superior Court Judge. In 2017, former Superior Court staffer Janet Gordon filed a lawsuit alleging harassment and a hostile work environment created by former Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey.

Brosey was a Lewis County Superior Court judge from July 1998 to January 2017, when he retired. He was a full-time court commissioner for four and a half years before being appointed by Gov. Gary Locke to the Superior Court position.

According to that suit, Hunt advised Gordon against filing a complaint, saying it would “‘set off a bomb,’ and things would never be the same,” according to court documents.

A trial in that case is scheduled to begin next year.

Hunt retired at the end of his term and was replaced in January 2017 by Superior Court Judge Andrew Toynbee.

Brosey also retired, and was replaced at the same time by Superior Court Judge Joely O’Rourke.