Infuriated by what he calls an attempt to "mislead the press and public," Department of Corrections Director Gary W. DeLand is
seeking to set aside a $95,000 settlement agreement in a sexual harassment suit against a former corrections official.In a motion filed Wednesday in federal court, DeLand's attorney, Gordon Strachan, said the money - which has already been paid - should be returned to the state because the terms of the agreement have been violated.
The case involves a lawsuit filed in February by former corrections secretary Linda Susan Dreitzler against the state, former corrections inspector general Scott McAlister and DeLand.
According to court documents, attorneys agreed to the dismissal of DeLand as a defendant in the case five days prior to the dismissal of the other defendants and the payment of $95,000 to Dreitzler.
Strachan's memorandum in support of the motion to set aside the settlement says Dreitzler's lawyer, Kathryn Collard, breached the agreement by "libeling (DeLand) in the press."
The memorandum cites a Salt Lake Tribune article in which Collard stated that the settlement demonstrated the validity of her client's claims and that the money "should come out of (DeLand's and McAlister's) pockets."
"The early dismissal of defendant DeLand and his exoneration were conditions understood by all the parties as the fundamental reasons defendant DeLand agreed to a settlement of the lawsuit," Strachan said.
In an affidavit accompanying his motion, Strachan said he and Collard agreed during a telephone conversation on Sept. 13 that they would release to the press only copies of the settlement stipulation, motion, and draft order dismissing DeLand, and only after charges against DeLand had been dismissed.
"Plaintiff's counsel, knowing the nature and terms of the settlement agreement and the mutually acceptable press releases, intentionally and maliciously gave false information to the Salt Lake Tribune, deliberately misleading the press and public.
"The understanding of the parties regarding the settlement agreement and the release of information to the media were essential to defendant DeLand's willingness to settle," Strachan said, adding that a breach renders the agreement "voidable."
Collard said there was no such understanding and called Strachan's motion "ridiculous." The stipulation and order signed by both sides said nothing about the types of comments that would or would not be made to reporters, she added.
Strachan informed Collard by letter on Sept. 13 that he was drafting a press release that would be brief "to avoid extensive discussion with the press." However, nothing more was said about press relations after that, Collard said.
She also said that settlements of civil rights cases involving public officials cannot legally be kept secret and that she would never agree to remain silent about such settlements.
"I've requested that the court hear this matter at the earliest possible date so that we may lay it to rest once and for all," Collard said.
Dreitzler alleged in her suit that McAlister gave her pornographic films to view in an attempt to engage her in group sex. The suit also said her continued employment was made dependent on her participation in a "corporation" to buy a house with McAlister and another woman for a "three-way sexual relationship."
DeLand was named as a defendant because he knew or should have known about McAlister's actions and put a stop to them, Dreitzler said in her suit.
In a written statement released by Strachan, McAlister says, "I unequivocally stated that Mr. DeLand should not be responsible for any mistakes of judgment that I have made for, in fact, he did not in any manner acquiesce to any of the allegations set forth in the complaint."
Strachan said, "Gary DeLand welcomes the opportunity to have the court affirm what plaintiff's counsel recognized upon dismissal: That she has no valid claim against Gary DeLand."
One complicating factor in the motion to set aside the agreement is the state's involvement. Harold Christensen, chief of litigation for the attorney general's office, said the state considers the settlement agreement valid and the case closed. Strachan, a private attorney, was hired by the attorney general to represent DeLand as an independent counsel.
McAlister, who also faces criminal charges of possession of child pornography, resigned from his post in December and now lives in Arizona.