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Originally published Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 12:21 PM

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GOP staffer seeks $1.75 million settlement over Pam Roach decision

A state Senate GOP senior attorney is seeking a $1.75 million settlement from the state, saying that Republicans have created a hostile work environment by allowing Sen. Pam Roach back into the caucus in exchange for a vital vote on their budget plan last month.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — A state Senate GOP staffer says Republicans created a hostile work environment by letting Sen. Pam Roach back into their caucus last month in exchange for a budget vote, and wants the state to settle with him for $1.75 million.

In a letter obtained by The Seattle Times and others, an attorney for Republican Senate Counsel Mike Hoover contends Hoover has been the brunt of abuse from Roach for years. Allowing her back into the caucus — after she had been banned for past behavior — makes Hoover's job with the Senate untenable, the attorney says.

"Mr. Hoover understandably has no faith that the caucus can or will take any steps to protect him or other staff from Senator Roach's behavior in the future," the attorney wrote in the letter to Secretary of the Senate Tom Hoemann.

Hoover declined to comment Wednesday, saying he wanted to talk to his attorney. Roach did not return phone calls.

The letter from his attorney, Daniel Johnson, of Seattle, said Hoover was so upset when he first heard Roach would be allowed back into the caucus "he experienced chest pains, shortness of breath and accelerated heart rate. He believed he might be having a heart attack" and was taken to the hospital.

Johnson wrote in the April 2 letter that Hoover wanted to handle the matter "as quickly and quietly as possible without further public embarrassment. For this reason I have not yet presented a claim ... or filed a lawsuit."

Roach, R-Auburn, was banned from her caucus in 2010 over her treatment of Hoover. She was able to vote but was barred from the caucus room where her colleagues discussed legislation, and she could not deal directly with caucus staff or counsel.

In an interview last month, she said she was allowed back into the caucus when she cast a key vote that allowed the Senate Republicans, with the help of three Democrats, to pass their own version of the state budget.

"I had some things I wanted to have," she said at that time, adding that one of them was being allowed back into the caucus. "And that occurred."

The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, which oversees Senate personnel matters, met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the case. It decided to seek outside counsel to handle the matter.

"We have a complaint and we're going to try to deal with it effectively and fairly because workplace respect is a very important value here," said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, who chairs the committee.

Although Roach was allowed back into the caucus, Fraser noted that the restrictions on her interactions with staff remained in place.

A GOP letter inviting Roach back into the caucus, dated Feb. 29, said, "please note that the protocol for staff contact remains unchanged." The GOP letter, included with the letter from Hoover's attorney to the Senate secretary, was signed by Senate Republican leadership.

Sen. Linda Parlette, of Wenatchee, the Senate Republican Caucus chairwoman, confirmed Wednesday that restrictions on Roach were still in place.

The 2009 incident that resulted in Roach's being banned from her caucus began after a Republican senator returned from giving a speech at a rally and wanted to post related information and photos on her website, Hoover told investigators at the time.

Hoover raised concerns, given an ongoing ethical debate over the use of public funds for political purposes. Roach, who was first elected to the Senate in 1990, became angry at Hoover during the discussion, according to the Senate investigation.

"Senator Roach's comments quickly devolved into a vicious and personal attack on me," Hoover wrote. "She said I didn't advocate for the caucus and didn't do my job ... and should be fired."

The internal-investigation report said several witnesses corroborated his account. One person told an investigator that watching the incident was "like the driver of the car kept backing up over the victim again and again."

Hoover's attorney wrote in his letter this week that during the incident "some fled the room or put their hands over their ears to muffle the screaming."

Roach disagreed with the account at the time, saying she was being singled out and that the GOP leadership "wants to persecute me." She appealed the decisions by the Senate and GOP leaders to reprimand her and ban her from the caucus. Her appeal was denied.

The letter from Hoover's attorney said "caucus members made it clear ... that the trade with Senator Roach (allowing her to rejoin the caucus) was made solely for political reasons."

Although Democrats hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, Senate Republicans were able to take control of the budget last month.

The Roach connection wasn't obvious when Republicans passed their budget with 25 votes. Attention was focused on three Democrats who crossed party lines: Sens. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Jim Kastama of Puyallup.

Roach had been seen meeting with Democratic leaders before the Republican coup and has acknowledged getting a briefing on their budget.

In the interview last month, Roach said, "I was the 25th vote (for the GOP), and my caucus finally did the right thing."

Budget negotiations have been going in circles ever since. It's not clear if the Legislature will be able to reach an agreement when the current 30-day special session ends next week, or have to go into yet another special session.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the Hoover case "creates another level of tension in an already tense environment."

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com. Material from Seattle Times archives was used in this story.

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