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“All I want for Christmas is my Daughter back"

By David Jaques

Roseburg, OR- The plight of a young single mother, and her efforts to recover her daughter from the clutches of the state, began nearly four years ago to the day, when uniformed police, not Child Protective Services, first removed then seven-week-old Nakota Ruth Eckel from her mother’s arms.

After four years of a virtual tug-of-war between AJ (Eckel) Pichette, who gave birth to Nakota, and her state appointed foster parents, Kim and Mike Root, both Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputies, it looks as though a happy ending for Nakota and her mother may be in sight.

On November 15, 2011, AJ and her court appointed attorney, Kareen LaValley, again faced a formidable array of state workers from the Department of Human Services including Ryan Loosli the Roseburg office manager, as well as Attorneys for Mike and Kim Root, Douglas County Deputy District Attorney Robin Vogel-Smith, and four-year-old Nakota’s state appointed Attorney, Jim Arneson.

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County pays off on same-sex marriage case

Update: April 13, 2011 Kathy L. Slater v. Douglas County

On April 13, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to pay Kathy Slater, a former Douglas County Clerk employee, $145,000 to settle a lawsuit against Douglas County.

Slater filed the suit after she was fired for requesting to be excused from processing same sex marriage applications which she said is against her religious beliefs.

The settlement came on the heels of a ruling by the ninth circuit that the county did not even explore options to accommodate Slater’s request. They also ruled that Douglas County only received 37 applications over a two year period, with each taking approximately 10 minutes, and that allowing her to exchange work to accommodate her religious rights would not have been a hardship to the county or other employees. They then forwarded the case to a jury trial.

The parties settled the Lawsuit during a judicial settlement conference with United States Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke on February 1, 2011 pending approval by the Commissioners. Slater will receive two checks. The first for $25,438 will cover her lost wages, and a second for $70,254 “for damages for the alleged violation of her rights and her alleged emotional distress and pain and suffering”.

The third payment of $49,308 will be paid to Brian L. Pocock, Slater’s attorney.

The county also agreed to amend Slater’s personnel file to show that her employment with Douglas County ended due to a reduction in work force and that she is eligible for rehire.


Clerk’s action triggers settlement

Roseburg, OR -- The Douglas County Board of Commissioners will hold a meeting at 11:00 am on Wednesday, April 12, in Room 217 of the Courthouse publicized as a “settlement agreement (K. Slater v. Douglas County)”.

The settlement stems from a lawsuit brought by Kathy Slater, a 10 year employee of the Clerk’s office, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended in 1972).

Slater was fired by County Clerk, Barbara Neilsen after asking to “be excused from doing any work related to domestic partnership registrations”. Slater claimed the processing applications for same sex marriage would be a violation of her religious belief that homosexuality is a sin.

Slater, a 10 year veteran of the Clerk’s office, made the request after Oregon began allowing same-sex domestic partnership registration in 2008.

County Clerk, Barbara Neilsen refused Slater’s request, arguing that all employees must be willing to process the registrations, and to do so would have burdened other employees with additional work.

Slater’s suit claims the county violated federal and state law by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs.

The County filed for a motion with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for summary judgment, arguing that the  county did accommodate Slater’s request by offering her a position outside the Clerk’s Office if one came available.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the county’s vague offer to transfer Slater did not reasonably accommodate her.
They also noted that Slater had been subsequently rejected for four positions in different departments.

The court also took into consideration that only 37 applications for domestic partnership registrations were processed in Douglas County in the two years that it had been allowed. With each application taking approximately 10 minutes to process, they concluded that having another employee do the job would not have been a hardship for the office.

The Court pointed out that Clerk Neilsen did not make inquires to ascertain the details of Slater’s requested accommodation and that the county failed to “engage in an interactive process” which is required by law.

The court denied the County’s motion for summary judgment and required they present their evidence before a jury. The Commissioners will consider the settlement agreement in a further attempt to avoid going to court.


Oregon Senate approves in-state tuition for illegal’s

Salem, OR – On March 29, 2011 the Oregon Senate passed SB 742 which makes illegal aliens, living in Oregon, eligible to receive in-state tuition.

According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Oregon’s population increased 20.7% between 1990 and 2000, and by 7.9% between 2000 and 2006, bringing Oregon’s population to approximately 3.7 million. FAIR estimates that 28% of the population increase between 2000 and 2006 was directly attributable to illegal immigrants.

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Gathering of Warbirds

Roseburg, OR - The Southern Oregon Warbirds held a public seminar and book signing event at the Douglas County Museum Thursday, March 24. Those in attendance heard stories never before told by the men who flew combat missions in WWII and Korea.

Les Long, a B-29 pilot in WWII, who enlisted at the age of 18, told the story of a twenty-two hour flight from Calcutta to Singapore. He said the B-29 he flew had a pressurized cabin, unheard of in those days. Though he suffered an injury, nearly losing the sight of his right eye, Long told the group “I decided then, not to become a professional victim.” He said he went on to run more than one successful business after the war.

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