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Saturday, May 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State to pay $2 million to victims of trooper

Seattle Times staff reporter

Nine victims of a former highway trooper convicted of fondling women during illegal searches settled lawsuits against the Washington State Patrol for a total of $2 million last week.

The settlement reconciles all pending civil claims against the State Patrol for the sexual misconduct of former Trooper Michael Idland, said Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for the attorney general.

Some of the women are still pursuing or considering lawsuits directly against Idland, their attorneys said Friday.

Idland, 42, was originally charged with three felonies and eight gross misdemeanors for fondling 10 women and entered a modified guilty plea — called an Alford plea — to three charges of sexual misconduct last September.

Idland, a six-year veteran of the Patrol, spent 17 months in solitary confinement in the King County Jail, received four years probation and was ordered to pay more than $40,000 in penalties and other fees. He no longer works as a trooper.

Charging papers filed in King County Superior Court accused Idland of stopping young women on suspicion of drunken driving and then inappropriately touching them under the guise of conducting searches.

The settlement was the result of an 18-hour mediation meeting May 12, attended by the lawyers, the victims and State Patrol Chief John Batiste, according to attorney David Gehrke, who represents four of the victims.

Attorneys for some of the victims said Friday their clients were pleased with the settlement.

"She's very gratified by the State Patrol's willingness to accept responsibility for their role in this," said lawyer Steve Fogg, who represents the youngest of the victims.

The individual victims' settlements ranged from $60,000 to $380,000, Guthrie said.

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Joe Baker, who represents four of the victims, said the settlement was preferable to a trial because a jury might be so mad at Idland that it might decide to hold him responsible for most of the damages and not the State Patrol, which has more financial resources than the former trooper.

He also said his clients wanted to move on with their lives and avoid taking the stand in a protracted trial.

Some of the lawsuits against the State Patrol claimed that Idland received several poor performance reviews before he was arrested and that the agency ignored signs that he should have been fired.

The agency says it acted as soon as the women's allegations came out. In response to the case, the State Patrol is reviewing hiring practices, said spokesman Jeff DeVere.

"We're very pleased with the settlement," he said. "We felt it was the right thing to do."

Idland targeted young, attractive females driving on the Eastside. The charges stemmed from traffic stops dating from 2002 until his arrest in May 2004.

In one case, Idland gave a teenage woman a ride home after her boyfriend's car broke down on the Highway 520 bridge and told her he would have to do a "detailed search" before he let her go, according to court documents.

Several other times, Idland was accused of stopping women for suspected DUIs, then fondling them during pat-downs.

The Times is not naming the women because they are the victims of a sex crime.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com

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