Lawsuit may not boost county insurance premium

Dan Schwartz

FARMINGTON — San Juan County officials are waiting to see whether the county’s insurance premium will rise following a $500,000 settlement in a lawsuit claiming Sheriff Ken Christesen and others retaliated against former office employees.

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“It’s all a speculation game,” County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said.

Lisa Haws, Matt Wilcox and Beth and Shane Utley filed the lawsuit in April 2014 claiming unjust demotions, workplace harassment and demands to support Christesen’s 2014 re-election campaign. Documents filed in the county's response deny the claims.

In addition to Christesen, Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brice Current, then-Undersheriff Ron Anderson, the Sheriff’s Office, the county and its commissioners were named as defendants.

The plaintiff’s attorney filed documents on Oct. 6 to dismiss and settle the lawsuit.

Carpenter said the county needs to make “darn sure” it operates fairly and professionally to avoid using its insurance policies — with the exception of medical insurance.

Officials said there are many variables that can influence insurance premiums, such as other lawsuits or claims. The retaliation lawsuit settlement is only one variable, they said.

“We don’t know if that alone would raise it or not,” Deputy County Attorney Joe Sawyer said. The county likely will know in March, which is when it normally renews its insurance, he said.

Two lawsuits Bloomfield settled in 2014 for a total of about $460,000 did not increase the city’s premium, insurance officials said at the time.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.