‘Sloppy Or Overzealous Lawyering’ Does Not Warrant Overturn Arbitrator’s Decision

Sometime after 11:23 p.m. on February 7, 2006, Island County, Washington Deputy Sheriff Jay Wallace responded to a 911 call. Wallace reported to dispatch that he observed an individual putting on a pair of pants, running to the back of the residence, and refusing to answer the door. Wallace spoke with a neighbor who confirmed that a man fitting the subject’s description was supposed to be in the house. Wallace concluded that the subject was not in need of any assistance, but noted that “he’s refusing to answer the door or even make himself known at this point.”

Less than three hours later, another 911 call came in from the same address. Wallace responded to dispatch, “There was no problem there. The party just would not open the door…He seemed in good health.” He also told dispatch that the “guy ran into the living room, threw on a pair of pants, ran back to the bedroom and wouldn’t answer the door. There was no problems there, because he was the only one there.” Wallace did not respond to the second 911 call.

The next day, Victoria Walker made a 911 call and stated that she had been assaulted the previous night. Walker stated that she had called 911, but that her assailant, Matthew Friar, would not let her open the door when the police responded. Walker stated that Friar had placed her in the closet and threatened to kill her and her son if she made her presence known to the deputy.

After an investigation, the Sheriff fired Wallace, concluding that Wallace had shirked his duties twice during the night of February 7, 2006, and that the material inconsistencies in his statements to dispatch and subsequent written statements compelled a finding that Deputy Wallace was “dishonest regardless which version more closely mirrors reality.” When an arbitrator upheld Wallace’s termination decision, he challenged the Arbitrator’s opinion in federal court.

The Court refused to overturn the arbitration opinion. Wallace alleged that the County intentionally misled the Arbitrator by “repeatedly stating that Walker had been beaten and raped as a result of Wallace’s failure to respond to the 911 calls in an appropriate manner.” Wallace contended that “this allegation was false and it materially influenced the Arbitrator’s decision. In their post-hearing brief, defendants state four times that Walker was beaten and raped. There was, however, no judicial finding that Walker was physically and sexually assaulted on the night of February 7th; rather, these statements were based on Ms. Walker’s allegations.”

The Court found that the County’s statements did not constitute the level of “fraud” necessary to overturn the Arbitrator’s opinion. The Court observed that “while repeating a victim’s statements without proper attribution may have been overzealous and/or careless, it does not rise to the level of fraud in this case. There was ample evidence in the record to support the County’s statements, even if they were not judicially-proven facts. Mere ‘sloppy or overzealous lawyering’ does not constitute fraud or undue means.

“More importantly, there is no indication that the Arbitrator was fooled into thinking that the assault and rape accusations had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Throughout the post-hearing brief, the County attributed the allegations of rape and beating to Walker and/or acknowledged that the accusations had not been established. The Arbitrator, for his part, refers to the rape and beating as part of the employer’s argument or properly attributes those allegations to Walker. The Arbitrator never states as a matter of fact that Walker had been beaten and raped. Finally, the Arbitrator based his decision that there was just cause for termination on his findings that Wallace violated policy and was dishonest: the decision was not based on the alleged assault.”

Wallace v. Island County, 2011 WL 6210633 (W.D. Wash. 2011).