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Cline suit mediation to begin

Parties to a federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former Clay County sheriff's deputy will begin negotiating a settlement Friday at a mediation conference in Duluth, Minn.

Parties to a federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former Clay County sheriff's deputy will begin negotiating a settlement Friday at a mediation conference in Duluth, Minn.

Four attorneys will have 20 minutes each to present arguments to U.S. District Magistrate Judge Raymond Erickson in Kathy Cline's lawsuit against Clay County.

After the arguments, Erickson will meet privately with the parties to see if the sides can negotiate a settlement.

A deal could be struck in one day, but attorneys aren't willing to predict whether it will happen.

"In this case, my goal is to get the entire matter done with," said Jon Iverson, a Minneapolis attorney hired to represent the county. "This is a routine aspect in dealing with federal lawsuits."


Cline's attorney, Pat Monson, said the parties will discuss the strengths and weaknesses with Erickson.

"We're optimistic that if everyone comes with the same goal in mind, it can get done," Monson said. "We're willing to devote as much time and energy to accomplish that goal. If the judge keeps us all weekend, that's fine with me."

Cline, 42, is suing Clay County over claims that former sheriff Larry Costello assaulted, stalked, harassed and discriminated against her while she was a deputy in the Sheriff's Department.

She also claims the county didn't protect her civil rights as an employee. The lawsuit names eight county officials as defendants, including all five county commissioners, Costello and County Attorney Lisa Borgen.

The Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust, which provides coverage for Clay County, has hired three attorneys to represent defendants in the case.

MCIT has hired Ann Goering of Minneapolis to represent Costello and James Andreen to represent County Commissioner Ben Brunsvold.

In a November letter to county officials, Cline demanded $1.8 million, Costello's resignation and apologies from the county and Costello.

However, Cline has more claims now and continues to accrue attorney's fees, so the proposed amount is likely to go up, Monson said.


The county, in a legal brief filed in court, argues Cline failed to follow county policies for reporting sexual harassment.

Costello has denied Cline's charges but agreed the two had a consensual affair where she often pursued him.

Brunsvold argues in court documents that he has insufficient information to be included in the county's legal response to the claims.

The county received a letter last July 26 from Cline outlining her claims. She was placed on administrative leave and the county hired Fargo attorney DeAnn Pladson to investigate.

Cline filed her federal lawsuit Dec. 5 and no longer works for the county.

Costello retired May 10 after qualifying for a medical retirement. The Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota approved the retirement because Costello suffered severe back injuries during an auto accident in 1980.

Iverson said a recent federal trial in Fargo will likely play a role in the outcome of Cline's case.

"This isn't the first case like this nor will it be the last," Iverson said. "The bottom line is money. No doubt, we'll talk about the Trautman case."


A jury ruled Feb. 7 that Dale Trautman, a former pastor, took sexual advantage of a female parishioner. Jurors assessed $80,000 damages against Trautman.

But the civil court jury also assessed some responsibility to former church member Jean Enderle. The jurors assessed Enderle 40 percent responsibility, reducing her damages to $48,000.

Iverson said Cline's earlier demand for $1.8 million is unacceptable.

"If I show up at this mediation conference and the demand stays at $1.8 million, it's going to be a short conference," he said. "Clay County won't voluntarily pay $1.8 million."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

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