Attorneys for Humann, City, Cooper make their case on day 1 of federal trial

Debi Humann
Debi Humann
Mike Cooper

Attorneys for the City of Edmonds and former Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper squared off against those representing Debi Humann in U.S. District Court in downtown Seattle Monday, on the first day of what is expected to be a three-week civil trial. Humann, the city’s former human resources director, alleges wrongful termination and retaliation related to her cooperation with a 2011 Washington State Auditor’s Office investigation involving Cooper’s then-executive assistant Kim Cole.

Day one of the trial, held before Federal Judge Marsha Pechman, began with jury selection in the morning. Five men and five women were selected as former Mayor Cooper sat at the defense table with his attorney John Kugler. Next to Kugler was the attorney representing the City of Edmonds, Jayne Freeman, and to her right sat Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling and Reporting Director for Human Resources Carrie Hite. Sitting at the plaintiffs table were Humann and her attorneys, Beth Bloom and Jillian Cutler.

Neither Earling nor Hite is named in the suit; they attended the first day of the trial together but will alternate their appearances going forward to ensure the city is represented, Hite told My Edmonds News during a break in the proceedings. (Earling was initially named but was removed after appealing based on “the principle of qualified immunity of government officials.”)

On Monday afternoon, attorneys began making their opening statements, starting with Bloom, who said that Humann “questioned power and privilege and paid a serious price.” She said the Humann was just doing her job when she questioned Cooper about his executive assistant’s work schedule and hours, and that she was then fired for cooperating with a State Auditor’s Office investigation into Cole’s time sheets following an anonymous whistleblower complaint. The Edmonds City Council also retaliated against Humann by eliminating the Human Resources Director position from the city budget, Bloom said.

(Since Humann was let go in 2011, Hite has overseen the Human Resources Department on a part-time basis in addition to serving as the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director.)

“Debi’s reputation has been ruined forever. It’s just a Google click away,” Bloom said, adding that Humann has been unable to find work in the human resources field since she was fired.

City of Edmonds attorney Jayne Freeman in her opening remarks painted a different picture, stating that Cooper fired Humann because she “was becoming more belligerent with him” and she was not completing work that he had asked her to do. In an effort to prove that the decision to eliminate Humann’s position wasn’t retaliatory, Freeman played video clips of Edmonds City Councilmembers discussing their reasons for eliminating the position during 2011 budget negotiations.

Freeman also told jurors that Humann was able to find a new job, noting that she now works for the Teamsters union as a business agent.

“You’ll be presented with a lot of smoke…but that doesn’t always mean there’s fire,” Freeman told the jury.

The day concluded with Cooper’s attorney John Kugler, who described what the defense views as Humann’s excessive oversight of Cole. Humann didn’t agree with the salary that Cooper has set for Cole, nor did she like Cooper’s decision to allow Cole — a single mother who also was attending law school and serving as a Lynnwood City Councilmember — to work flexible hours, Kugler said.

Pechman ended court promptly at 4 p.m., before Kugler had completed his opening statement, so he will have an opportunity to finish it Tuesday morning. Among the witnesses likely to be called Tuesday: former Edmonds Economic Development and Community Services Director Stephen Clifton, former Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson, current Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan and former Edmonds City Councilmember Michael Plunkett.

You can read more background on the case here. My Edmonds News will continue to provide coverage during the trial.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.