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The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

December 27, 2010 at 12:15 PM

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Whistle-blower's case dismissed by King County judge

Posted by Jennifer Sullivan

A King County Superior Court judge has dismissed a civil suit against the city of Seattle filed by a firefighter who says he was the victim of workplace retaliation for exposing an ethics scandal in the Fire Marshal's Office.

Earlier this month, Judge Michael Hayden dismissed the suit filed by Jim Woodbury, a deputy chief at the Seattle Fire Department. Woodbury's lawyer has filed an appeal.

Woodbury says he was demoted from deputy chief to battalion chief in January 2009 after clashing with Fire Chief Gregory Dean over the discipline of a fire inspector who had failed to bill Qwest Field for nearly $200,000 in fire services and who demanded free backstage passes to a Hannah Montana concert. Woodbury filed a whistle-blower complaint with city ethics investigators accusing Dean of failing to punish the inspector, Lt. Milt Footer.

But in August 2009, two months after the suit was filed, Woodbury was promoted back to deputy chief, and his salary was increased to the level had been before the demotion.

Jack Sheridan, Woodbury's lawyer, said the ruling was made a week before the trial was set to begin. Sheridan, in a news release, said that he does "not think that the decision is supported by any reasonable reading of the law.

"We think Judge Hayden's decision is an abuse of discretion," Sheridan wrote.

Sheridan said that the case is intended to set an example to other Seattle Fire Department employees who have witnessed wrongdoing by colleagues, but are afraid to come forward.

Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, said they are pleased with Hayden's ruling.

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