Lindell v. city trial delayed indefinitely

Judge James Robart told attorneys that the trial set in the lawsuit brought against the City of Mercer Island by former city manager, Londi Lindell, would be delayed indefinitely. His announcement came after a  second day of testimony regarding what happened to key evidence on a laptop computer.

The March 28 proceeding in the U.S. District Court in Seattle was a continuation of a hearing held on March 21 called by the judge to discuss a new motion filed by the City of Mercer Island accusing the plaintiff, Londi Lindell, of destroying key evidence on a laptop computer. In her lawsuit, Lindell is suing key city officials after she was fired from her job as assistant city manager.

However, less than two days after the hearing, which included lengthy testimony from two computer forensic specialists, the judge and the defendant’s lawyers received a surprising letter. The letter, from the plaintiff’s attorneys, stated that they had just found out and did not know that the hard drive in the computer used by Lindell had been “upgraded.”

03.23.11 Blank en Ship Letter to SKM.sra

The March 21 hearing was held just days before the two-year-old lawsuit was set to go to trial. At issue was the recent allegations, by the plaintiffs in the case, that Lindell had “willfully destroyed key evidence” on her laptop computer in the case, and the response refuting the allegation from the plaintiff. Two computer forensic examiners, one representing each side, were called to testify what happened to the information on the laptop used by Lindell.

At the end of the long and technical hearing, the judge was considering hiring a third party to examine the computer on behalf of the court. Each consultant had offered different views as to what happened to the laptop, yet he admitted, “that may just give me one more opinion as opposed to an answer.”

He warned the parties on that day that the trial date may be in jeopardy.

“Sitting here today, I will tell you that if I am where I am right now, you are not going to have a trial because I think there is a prima facie case put forward that something happened to the computer. I am not comfortable that I understand what it is. I can’t rule on the motions and I can’t have the trial until I am comfortable with what happened,” the judge said.

03.21.11 Hearing Transcript

Less than two days later, attorneys for the plaintiff sent the letter stating that they did not know Lindell had the hard drive on the computer changed until after the March 21 hearing.

At the beginning of the March 21 hearing in U.S. Federal Court, Judge Robart indicated he was tired of some of the behavior of the attorneys on each side. The judge warned attorneys on each side to act with decorum. He ordered them to refrain from using inflammatory speech. He threatened to charge $25 for each use of one of his banned words or phrases.

The Reporter learned that at the end of the March 28 hearing, the judge set the next proceeding for April 7. He informed the attorneys on both sides that he wanted all testimony completed on that day.

He may or may not make a decision at that time, he said.

The suit, filed in United States District Court in Seattle on Dec. 23, 2008, states that Lindell was subject to adverse employment actions, that the defendants named in the suit discriminated against her because of her gender and that her termination lacked due process. The action goes on to say that defendants conspired against Lindell to have her terminated and have continued to retaliate against her since her dismissal. Lindell seeks both monetary and punitive damages from the city.

Lindell was hired by the city in 2000 as the city attorney and was promoted to assistant city manager in late 2006.

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