Shea Law Firm Defends Stalking Charge Getting it Dismissed.

Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy filed a stalking charge against a fellow deputy, who was represented by the Shea Law Firm. The deputy charged with stalking was terminated from Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office but then successfully sued and obtained reinstatement of his position and settled with Gallatin County.

The Shea Law Firm defended the stalking charge and the Court dismissed the charge finding the charges “stupid.”

Fired Gallatin County deputy settles civil cases for $400K

Written by: Whitney Bermes, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

A former Gallatin County sheriff’s deputy, who a judge ordered to be reinstated after being fired in 2014, has settled his civil lawsuits against the county, agreeing to not come back to the department after receiving a settlement.

Gallatin County agreed to pay David Johnston $400,000 to settle his actions against the county.

Johnston sued the county following his firing, asking to be reinstated. Following a three-day trial in 2015, District Judge Brenda Gilbert of Park and Sweet Grass counties reinstated Johnston and ordered the county to pay him more than $125,000 in lost salary and benefits.

The county appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court. In the meantime, Johnston filed additional claims against the county in federal court.

This month, the parties settled all the suits with the county agreeing to pay $400,000. As part of the agreement, Johnston agreed to never seek reinstatement with the sheriff’s office.

Johnston was fired in 2014 after sheriff’s office administrators say he refused to turn over a tape recorder after Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin ordered him to immediately return it.

On that tape recorder was an interaction Johnston had with Deputy Kelly Munter, his ex-girlfriend. He claimed she became angry with him and berated him while the two responded to a call at Monforton School in July 2014.

Munter later filed a complaint against Johnston that led to Johnston being placed on administrative leave.

Two days after Johnston was put on leave, Lt. Jake Wagner requested that Johnston turn over his tape recorder. Johnston said he wanted to seek advice from an attorney first and make a copy prior to turning it over to Wagner.

That same day, accompanied by an attorney, Johnston returned the recorder to the sheriff’s office after making a copy of the audio for himself.

Later that month, following a disciplinary hearing, Johnston was fired.

During the trial, Gootkin testified that the recorder was county property that needed to be returned as soon as possible. But Johnston refused to comply with Gootkin’s order, the sheriff said.

And it is important for his deputies to follow Gootkin’s orders because the sheriff’s office is entrusted to the public, Gootkin testified.

“We have a huge responsibility to the people we serve. When you violate that trust, whether it be lying or disobeying an order,” Gootkin said, “I can’t allow that to occur.”

Johnston’s attorney, Todd Shea, on the other hand, argued that Johnston’s firing was a “punishment (that) simply didn’t fit this crime” and that Johnston was entitled to get a copy of the recorder’s contents.

The firing was “cooked up” by the sheriff’s office command staff as a way to get rid of Johnston, who had prior bad incidents with Munter following their breakup, Shea said.
Judge Gilbert sided with Johnston, saying Johnston’s firing was contrary to sheriff’s office policies and state law.

Johnston didn’t refuse to comply with the sheriff’s order, but rather made it clear that he wanted legal advice prior to giving the recorder back to the sheriff’s office.

“Johnston’s short delay in compliance with the sheriff’s order, under the circumstances presented to Johnston, do not equate with a refusal to comply with the order,” Gilbert wrote in her ruling.

And Johnston, a 10-year veteran in the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, was fired after a 10-20 minute hearing where no testimony was presented. Additionally, Gilbert noted the order that Johnston was accused of violating was given by Gootkin, who also conducted the disciplinary hearing and who testified that he was “upset, emotional and mad” during both Johnston’s disciplinary hearing and termination meeting.

“The termination hearing that resulted in Johnson’s termination does not pass muster in terms of basic due process rights afforded to any individual facing the potential loss of his or her livelihood,” Gilbert wrote.

Calvin Stacey, a Billings attorney who represented the county during the case, was out of town and unavailable to comment Thursday. Shea declined to comment on the settlement.

Gallatin County ordered to pay more than $125,000 to wrongfully fired deputy

By Whitney Bermes, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, March 21, 2017

A District Court judge has ordered that Gallatin County pay more than $125,000 for lost wages and benefits to a deputy wrongfully fired by the sheriff in 2014.

In a judgment issued Friday, District Judge Brenda Gilbert of Park and Sweet Grass counties said that Gallatin County must award David Johnston $125,786 for lost wages and benefits from his July 23, 2014, firing through December of last year.

And the county was also ordered to pay about $3,450 for costs incurred as part of the case.

In addition, Johnston will receive interest payments as well as a $247 per diem payment that he will receive until he is reinstated in the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office or when the case is settled otherwise.

Johnston has yet to be reinstated.

Johnston sued the county following his firing. The case went to trial for three days in December 2015 before Gilbert, who later ruled in favor of Johnston and ordered that he be reinstated as a deputy and receive damages.

In the more than a year since Gilbert ruled in favor of Johnston, attorneys have battled over how much money Johnston was due.

Johnston’s attorney Todd Shea argued for more than $125,000 for back pay and benefits. But Gallatin County’s attorney Calvin Stacey argued that Johnston was only entitled to about $38,520 before taxes.

Since Johnston’s firing, he has received unemployment benefits and has been employed. By allowing Johnston to be reinstated and receive backpay from when he was fired, all while having earned money in that time frame, would be an “obvious windfall” for the deputy, Stacey argued.

Gilbert issued her final judgment Friday, agreeing with Shea’s proposed judgement.
Johnston was fired in 2014 after sheriff’s office administrators say he refused to turn over a tape recorder when Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin ordered him to immediately return it.

On that tape recorder was an interaction Johnston had with Deputy Kelly Munter, his ex-girlfriend. He claimed she became angry with him and berated him while the two responded to a call at Monforton School in July 2014.

Munter later filed a complaint against Johnston that led to Johnston being placed on administrative leave.

Two days after Johnston was put on leave, Gootkin’s office asked Johnston to turn over his tape recorder. Johnston said he wanted to seek advice from an attorney first and make a copy prior to turning it over.

That same day, accompanied by an attorney, Johnston returned the recorder to the sheriff’s office after making a copy of the audio. Later that month, following a disciplinary hearing, Johnston was fired.

During the trial, Gootkin testified that the recorder was county property and needed to be returned as soon as possible but that Johnston refused to comply with Gootkin’s order.

Shea, on the other hand, argued that Johnston’s firing was “cooked up” by the sheriff’s office command staff to get rid of Johnston, a 10-year department veteran who had prior bad incidents with Munter following their breakup.

Judge reinstates wrongfully fired Gallatin County deputy

By Whitney Bermes Chronicle Staff Writer Whitney Bermes – March  2, 2016

A judge has reinstated a former Gallatin County sheriff’s deputy and ruled that Sheriff Brian Gootkin wrongfully fired him in 2014.

In her ruling issued Wednesday, District Judge Brenda Gilbert of Park and Sweet Grass counties said that David Johnston can be reinstated as a deputy and be awarded damages for his lost salary and benefits from his July 23, 2014, firing through the end of the case.

While no exact cost of damages has been decided, Johnston’s attorney, Todd Shea, said Johnston’s lost salary and benefits will be at least $126,000.

Johnston was fired in 2014 after sheriff’s office administrators say he refused to turn over a tape recorder after Gootkin ordered him to immediately return it.

On that tape recorder was an interaction Johnston had with Deputy Kelly Munter, his ex-girlfriend. He claimed she became angry with him and berated him while the two responded to a call at Monforton School in July 2014.

Munter later filed a complaint against Johnston that led to Johnston being placed on administrative leave.

Two days after Johnston was put on leave, Lt. Jake Wagner requested that Johnston turn over his tape recorder. Johnston said he wanted to seek advice from an attorney first and make a copy prior to turning it over to Wagner.

That same day, accompanied by an attorney, Johnston returned the recorder to the sheriff’s office after making a copy of the audio for himself.

Later that month, following a disciplinary hearing, Johnston was fired.

During a three-day judge trial in December, Gootkin testified that the recorder was county property that needed to be returned as soon as possible. But Johnston refused to comply with Gootkin’s order, the sheriff said.

Shea, on the other hand, argued that Johnston’s firing was a “punishment (that) simply didn’t fit this crime” and that Johnston was entitled to get a copy of the recorder’s contents. The firing was “cooked up” by the sheriff’s office command staff as a way to get rid of Johnston, who had prior bad incidents with Munter following their breakup, Shea said.

Gilbert sided with Johnston, saying Johnston’s firing was contrary to sheriff’s office policies and state law.

Former Gallatin County Deputy Sues To Get Job Back

By Whitney Bermes, Bozeman Chronicle, August 22, 2014

A former Gallatin County sheriff’s deputy is suing the office he used to work for and his former boss to get his old job back.

David Johnston filed a suit in Gallatin County District Court on Wednesday against the sheriff’s office and Sheriff Brian Gootkin.

According to the suit:

Johnston had been a deputy in Gallatin County for 10 years.

On July 9, Johnston and his former girlfriend, Deputy Kelly Munter, were working the same shift. Johnston found an unlocked door at Monforton School and Munter responded as backup.

While on scene, Johnston said he had difficulties with Munter. When he asked her to help clear the school, Munter responded, “(Expletive) you, I’m leaving.”  Johnston then called dispatch to request a different deputy as backup.

After the incident, Johnston considered filing a formal complaint against Munter, but ultimately decided he wanted more time to think about it.

On July 15, Undersheriff Dan Springer and Lt. Jake Wagner told Johnston that a complaint had been filed against him with the human resources department and that he would be placed on paid administrative leave. They gave Johnston no details about the nature of the complaint but told him to expect to be out of work for two to three weeks.
On July 17, Wagner requested that Johnston turn over his recorder and its contents form the evening of July 9. Johnston said he wanted to seek advice from an attorney and make a copy of the recording prior to turning it over to Wagner.

“The sheriff’s office and the Bozeman Police Department have both recently been accused of, and acknowledged, deleting select portions of recorded conversations,” Johnston’s attorney Todd Shea wrote in the complaint.

That same day, accompanied by an attorney, Johnston retuned the recorder to the sheriff’s office and a copy of the recording was made for Johnston.

At that time, Johnston was given a letter of discipline advising him that a disciplinary hearing would be held on July 22 on the charge of insubordination because Johnston didn’t immediately surrender the recorder.

The day after Johnston’s disciplinary hearing, Gootkin fired him for not immediately giving the sheriff’s office his recorder.

Johnston said he has still yet to see a copy of the underlying complaint against him and has never been contacted by the human resources department regarding the complaint.
The lawsuit is requesting that Johnston be reinstated as a deputy and receive back pay, reinstatement of seniority, vacation benefits, insurance, sick leave, and all other benefits deputies receive, as well as attorney fees.

The sheriff’s office has not responded to the suit.

Employee Rights Case Against Firm Heads to Hearing

By Eddie Gregg at The Billings Gazette March 18, 2014

An investigation by the Montana Human Rights Bureau has determined that a Helena employee of CTA Architects has “reasonable cause” to believe the company discriminated against her because of health conditions.

The investigator in the case found the “preponderance of the evidence” supports Michelle Campbell’s claim that CTA “cut her hours and eliminated her medical insurance benefit in March 2013 because she disclosed she was pregnant and recently diagnosed with MS.”

Scott Wilson, president of CTA, said Monday he couldn’t discuss any employee issues, adding: “We do deny any discrimination or any wrongdoing” in the case.

Campbell started working as a full-time administrative assistant in CTA’s Helena office in 2009. The Billings-based company has 18 offices across the U.S. and in Canada.

According to the Human Rights Bureau report, Campbell’s employer reduced her position from 40 hours a week to 16 hours a week shortly after she informed her superiors of her pregnancy and diagnosis.

The report states that CTA officials told an investigator that Campbell’s job was reduced to part time as part of a companywide office restructuring triggered by budgeting problems and a projected shortage of work.

The eight-page report was signed on Jan. 14, which gave the parties involved 30 days to reach a settlement. No settlement was reached, so the case will go before a hearing examiner appointed by the Hearings Bureau of the state Department of Labor and Industry.

Wilson said the hearing hasn’t been scheduled, but he is confident CTA will prevail.
Campbell’s attorney, Todd Shea, of Bozeman, said that his client hasn’t been terminated from her job, but that she no longer works in the Helena office.

Since her diagnosis, Campbell has racked up more than $25,000 in outstanding medical bills, according to Shea.

Shea said Tuesday the amount of damages sought in the case hasn’t been determined.
“She cannot get her recommended treatment and medication for her MS treatment as she has no insurance and very little money after her hours were reduced,” Shea wrote in an email to The Gazette. “This has resulted in the exacerbation of her MS symptoms.”

Bozeman Nurse Settles Wrongful Discharge Lawsuit – Shea Law Firm Bozeman, MT

Chronicle Staff | Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012

A Bozeman nurse who claims she was fired after acting as a surrogate mother for a patient has settled her wrongful discharge lawsuit with Billings Clinic.

Anicee Acosta-Yearick contended that Billings Clinic wrongly fired her for ethics violations when she agreed to carry the patient’s baby in 2009, according to court documents.

Acosta-Yearick worked for Bozeman OB/GYN, owned by Billings Clinic, for 16 years before she was fired in January 2010. She was fired because “as a licensed professional nurse, she used her knowledge of private, protected health information to influence and solicit a Billings Clinic patient to enter into a surrogacy contract resulting in personal gain,” which violates the nursing and clinic codes of conduct, court documents state.
Billings Clinic filed an ethics violation complaint against Acosta-Yearick with the Montana Nursing Board, but the board decided the complaint did not justify legal or disciplinary action, according to court records.

Acosta-Yearick claimed she is friendly with the couple who asked for her help, court documents state, and she did not ask for money other than expenses.

Medical providers, who worked with Acosta-Yearick, supported her decision to be a surrogate mother for the patient. They submitted written statements that called into question the clinic’s motives for firing Acosta-Yearick.

The clinic filed to dismiss the case, saying state law protects employers from being sued for wrongful discharge when they have good cause. The clinic’s attorney claimed the accusations of insurance fraud, ethics violations and Acosta-Yearick’s decision to make money from the surrogacy were all valid reasons for firing her.

A Gallatin County judge’s order closing the wrongful discharge lawsuit didn’t include the settlement amount.

In a separate complaint, the insurance commissioner ordered health insurer New West Health Services to pay Acosta-Yearick’s medical bills for maternity care. New West had originally withdrawn its coverage after learning of the surrogate pregnancy.

A federal lawsuit against New West also has been settled and closed.

Bozeman Settles Wrongful Discharge Lawsuit – Shea Law Firm Bozeman, Montana

JODI HAUSEN, Chronicle Staff Writer | Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012

City Manager Chris Kukulski’s former executive assistant has agreed to a $20,000 settlement with the city of Bozeman in a wrongful discharge case, the city’s attorney said Wednesday.

Karen Semerau sued the city several months after she was laid off “as part of a reduction in the city’s workforce due to budgetary reasons,” according to the complaint attorney Todd Shea filed in Gallatin County District Court in 2010.

“At the time of Ms. Semerau’s termination, the city had not prepared its budget for the upcoming year,” Shea argued. No other employees were let go and, in fact, city officials approved hiring three more employees two months after Semerau was laid off. They also gave pay raises to 45 city employees, including Kukulski.

But attorneys Kevin Meek and Cathy Lewis argued the city had legitimate reasons for eliminating Semerau’s position.

And though Semerau’s final day was to be June 30, 2010, she asked to leave at the end of April, defense attorneys stated.

Semerau’s “damages were caused, in part, by her own decision to leave her employment” early, they wrote.

Shea, however, argued that Semerau “quickly realized that the city was no longer interested in fully utilizing her services” and she “did not want to be on the city payroll knowing that (her) position was being eliminated.”

“I was under an enormous amount of stress,” Semerau wrote in an affidavit.
The city further argued that Semerau did not file a grievance per city policies and asked District Judge John Brown to dismiss the suit. State law mandates that prior to filing a lawsuit, employees “must first exhaust an employer’s grievance procedure before he or she can bring a wrongful discharge action,” defense attorneys claimed. But Shea contended Semerau was not adequately informed of city policy despite numerous communications to her before and after her termination.

“Ms. Semerau never understood or was ever made aware that the grievance procedures applied to either the elimination of her position or the termination of her employment,” he wrote, calling the policy “ambiguous.”

“Any ambiguity should be construed most strongly against the party who caused the uncertainty to exist,” he wrote.

“Thankfully Karen has secured a new job and she wanted closure with the city,” Shea said Wednesday.

Meek declined to comment beyond stating the settlement amount, referring the, Chronicle to the Bozeman City Attorney’s Office. A call to that office was not returned Wednesday.

Insurer must pay bills for surrogate mother’s pregnancy – Nurse’s lawsuit against Billings Clinic Persists

JODI HAUSEN, Chronicle Staff Writer, November 10, 2011

A health insurer that withdrew medical coverage for a Bozeman nurse’s pregnancy after learning it was a surrogacy was ordered by the state to pay her medical bills.

Jameson C. Walker, attorney for the Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, notified New West Health Services that the insurer has to reimburse Anicee Acosta-Yearick for costs associated with her 2009 surrogate pregnancy.

“New West attempt to exclude coverage for surrogacy” but the exclusion outlined in the plan “only applies to costs associated with treatment of infertility – not an ensuing pregnancy by the insured surrogate,” Walker wrote in bold in the Nov. 1 letter.

“The policy also provides for coverage for all pregnancy and does not specifically exclude surrogacy pregnancy,” he continued.  “Even if the exclusion applied to the insured’s surrogacy pregnancy, this would be a violation” of Montana law that makes it unlawful to discriminate “solely on the basis of sex or marital status in the issuance or operation of any type of insurance policy.”

Citing a previous Montana Supreme Court case, Walker continued: “Since pregnancy was a condition unique to women, and the exclusion subjected women to fewer benefits than men, (the policy in question) unlawfully discriminated on the bases of gender.”
New West was given until Dec. 1 to provide the commissioner’s office with proof Acosta-Yearick’s covered pregnancy costs have been paid.

In a lawsuit filed against New West, Acosta-Yearick and her husband, Christopher Yearick, sued to recover more than $11,500 in medical claims.
Although it appears her medical bills will be paid, Acosta-Yearick is still awaiting resolution on a related wrongful discharge lawsuit she filed in Gallatin County District Court against Billings Clinic.

According to the lawsuit, Acosta-Yearick contends Billings Clinic wrongly fired her on grounds she violated the organization’s code of ethics when she agreed to carry an infertile patient’s baby.

Acosta-Yearick worked for Bozeman OB/GYN, owned by Billings Clinic, for 16 years before she was fired in January.  She was terminated because “as a licensed professional nurse, she used her knowledge of private, protected health information to influence and solicit a Billings Clinic patient to enter into a surrogacy contract resulting in personal gain,” which violates the clinic’s code of conduct and a nursing code of ethics, court documents state.

Billings Clinic filed an ethics violation complaint against Acosta-Yearick with the Montana Nursing Board, but the board determined the complaint did not justify legal or disciplinary action, court documents state.

Acosta-Yearick claims she is friendly with the couple who asked for her help.  She did not ask for financial compensation other than expenses.  She carried the woman’s baby as a gift.

Medical providers, who worked with Acosta-Yearick, supported her decision to be a surrogate mother for the patient.  They submitted written statement that called into question the clinic’s motives for firing her.

In her statement Dr. Stacey H. Shomento said that the complaint filed with the nursing board was “a personal vendetta” against Acosta-Yearick.  “I feel very strongly that Anicee has been wrongly accused,” she wrote.

Todd Shea, Acosta-Yearick’s attorney, also alleges in the suit that Billings Clinic violated the nurse’s privacy when they reviewed her medical records without her permission.
The clinic filed to dismiss the case, saying state law protects employers from being sued for wrongful discharge when they have good cause to do so.

The clinic’s attorney, Ed Butler, of Colorado Springs, Colo., calls the case “wholly frivolous” and claims the accusations of insurance fraud, nursing ethics violations and “specifically the propriety of Mrs. Yearick’s decision to become a surrogate mother for a patient…and her financial gain from that decision” are all valid reasons for having fired her.

Bozeman Nurse and Surrogate Mother Suing Billings Clinic, Health Insurer

JODI HAUSEN, Chronicle Staff Writer I Posted: Tuesday, October 11,2011

A Bozeman nurse is suing Billings Clinic and its health insurer, claiming she was wrongfully fired and denied health insurance coverage because she was pregnant as a surrogate mother for her patient.  Anicee Acosta-Yearick filed one lawsuit each against the Billings Clinic and the insurer, New West Health Services.

According to the lawsuits:
Acosta-Yearick was fired on grounds she violated Billings Clinic’s code of conduct and a nursing code of ethics when she agreed to carry an infertile patient’s baby. She is also suing to recover more than $11,500 in medical claims for the pregnancy New West initially paid but later revoked.

In November 2009, Acosta-Yearick became pregnant for a patient at Bozeman OB/GYN where she worked. The baby was born at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital in July 2010. When she was fired in January, Billings Clinic “informed Mrs. Yearick that she was under investigation for insurance fraud” and “interrogated” her about her pregnancy. The clinic filed a complaint against her with the Montana Nursing Board for ethics violations. The clinic fired her because she “used her knowledge of private, protected health information to influence and solicit a Billings Clinic Bozeman OBGYN patient to enter into a surrogacy contract resulting in personal gain.”

But Acosta-Yearick claims she is friendly with the couple who asked for her help. She did not ask for financial compensation other than expenses. She carried the woman’s baby as a gift. “If anyone pushed anyone into signing a legal surrogacy contract, it was I,” the baby’s mother wrote in a statement in the lawsuit. “Yes, Anicee, as my close friend, offered to be my gestational surrogate, but it was I who made the first contact to Anicee.”

Acosta-Yearick claims medical providers at Bozeman OBGYN supported her decision and never questioned her motives when she received pregnancy care.
Dr. Tyler Bradford wrote, “I feel it is wrong for her to be reported to the board of nursing and it would be even more unjust if her license is suspended or revoked as doing so would punish an individual for exhibiting the characteristics that we should all strive for in medicine: selflessness.”

Todd Shea, Acosta-Yearick’s attorney, said another nurse at a Billings Clinic donated her kidney to a patient. He wrote in the brief that she “was praised for her selfless and courageous act.”

Acosta-Yearick claims her termination violated her health care privacy rights, defamed her through slanderous and libelous contentions, was intended to interfere with her economic interests and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

The lawsuit against New West claims the insurer initially paid Acosta-Yearick’s medical bills but later reneged after a Billings Clinic employee asked the insurer about the legitimacy of the payments. The insurer had no exclusions for “surrogate services” and only added that amendment to the plan after Acosta-Yearick had asked about her benefits and became pregnant with the understanding her medical bills would be covered.

Montana’s state auditor reviewed Acosta-Yearick’s appeal to New West after her benefits were revoked and ruled in her favor, saying “the underlying condition that New West is denying coverage for is pregnancy and child birth. This is a condition exclusive to women.”