BLOOMFIELD — J. Edward Hollington, the attorney for two female former city of Bloomfield employees, says Mayor Scott Eckstein and City Manager David Fuqua misled Bloomfield citizens over the terms of a lawsuit that was settled for $200,000 earlier this month.
Hollington made the accusations in a letter to The Daily Times dated April 22.
Former employees Julie Baird and Julie Rasor filed a lawsuit in 2012 in U.S. District Court against Fuqua and the city of Bloomfield. It alleges sexual discrimination and harassment, wrongful termination and retaliation, among other complaints.
The complaint for the lawsuit details more than two years of alleged inappropriate or abusive behavior by Fuqua toward female employees. Fuqua allegedly inappropriately touched and threatened the women, according to the complaint. Also cited are alleged sexist comments and $5,000 raises Fuqua approved only for male department heads, the lawsuit states.
A $200,000 settlement in the case was reached April 15.
"Bloomfield's Mayor, Scott Eckstein, and City Manager, David Fuqua, try to blame the City's insurer, New Mexico Municipal League, for paying Julie Rasor and Julie Baird $200,000 to settle the discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit against City Manager David Fuqua. Mayor Eckstein and City Manager Fuqua claim there was no basis to the lawsuits. In my 33 years of practicing law, I have never seen an insurance company pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit that had no basis," Hollington said in the letter. "Eckstein and Fuqua failed to inform the citizens of Bloomfield that they approved the payment of $200,000 to settle the lawsuit. The dismissal of the charges against City Manager Fuqua was done because of the settlement agreement not because of his proclaimed innocence."
Mayor Eckstein disputes Hollington's assertions that he, Fuqua or the city did anything untoward to citizens.
"The city did not pay out of the general fund. It was a decision made by our insurer. My understanding is that Ed Hollington had over $200,000 in accumulated attorney's fees," said Eckstein when reached by phone on Friday. "If he truly believed he had a case, why would he settle for $75,000 in reimbursement? I'm curious as to why he would be willing to lose more than $125,000."
Under the settlement, Baird and Rasor were each paid $62,500, and the remaining $75,000 went to attorney's fees.
Hollington could not be reached for comment for this story.
As mayor, Eckstein said he felt he was obliged to sign the settlement agreement to avoid any potential further costs, even though he and the city council wanted to take the case to trial.
He also is adamant the decision by the city's insurer, the New Mexico Municipal League's Edward Zindell, was one he fought but ultimately conceded.
"It appears (Hollington is) implying that he was a part of the conversation with the insurance company, but he was in a totally separate room," Eckstein said. "He has no authority to dispute what I said. He can say whatever he wants about me, but it just doesn't change the fact I was being totally honest with the public and that the city was being truthful. And we were, as a city, telling the truth."
He added: "I did sign the settlement agreement, but that was after the insurance and their side accepted. I had no say-so on that. (Hollington) is wrong. That is absolutely incorrect. I never approved that payment. That's the insurance company's decision. I fought it to the very end."
Zindell also could not be reached for comment.
Eckstein said he encourages citizens to read depositions from the lawsuit and draw their own conclusions.
Ryan Lane, Bloomfield city attorney, said Hollington's letter was a possible breach of the settlement agreement's stipulation that "the parties mutually agree that they will not directly or indirectly communicate with any third person in a manner disparaging the other," according to the settlement's terms and conditions.
"All claims against David (Fuqua) were dismissed in the interest of justice," Lane said by phone on Friday. "If Mr. Hollington is asserting that David is guilty of some wrongdoing, it is the plaintiffs who dismissed all claims against David in the interest of justice, not the defendants. Hollington makes it sound like David signed off on the settlement agreement, and that's factually inaccurate."
For Fuqua, the letter was a surprise.
"I thought (Hollington) was better than that," Fuqua said. "To say something about the mayor and insinuate that we had misled the citizens when neither of us have. He's not the person I thought he was, after reading that letter. The sad thing is that this is supposed to be over. Why are we bringing it up and stirring the pot? We agreed we would abide by the agreement. That's what the judge said — be grown-ups and be a class act."
Fuqua was especially irked Eckstein's integrity was called into question by Hollington's letter.
"I've known a lot of men and very few of them are at the level of honesty of Scott Eckstein. His parents did a good job with him," he said. "I'm blown away he thinks he's getting traction off of something like that. It's empty, meaningless words. Our lives have meaning. Not some guy in Albuquerque who don't even know us. The way somebody lives and acts and treats other people, that's how you judge them, not how somebody says so."
Fuqua insisted again that he's innocent of the allegations in the lawsuit.
"It's over," he said. "They couldn't prove it. I mean, just drop it. But they can't for some reason. I don't get that, that mentality. I don't hate any of those people. I feel sorry for them. I really do."