Riley vs. City of Prescott jury finds in favor of Prescott

KayAnne Riley and former Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall

KayAnne Riley and former Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall

After six years, numerous appeals, more than 400 court filings, and 10 days of trial, the Riley vs. City of Prescott lawsuit ended Friday, Dec. 16, with a verdict in favor of the city.

The nine-person jury in the U.S. District Court trial in Phoenix deliberated all morning Friday, and into the afternoon, before announcing that it had reached a verdict at about 2:45 p.m.

“The jury came back with a defense verdict on all counts,” Prescott City Attorney Jon Paladini reported at about 3:45 p.m. Friday.

Noting that the city was pleased with the results, Paladini added: “The jury’s verdict confirms what we’ve known for the past six years – that neither Mayor Kuykendall or the City of Prescott had anything to do with KayAnne Riley being fired from the Humane Society.”

That claim by Riley, the former marketing director at the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS), was central to the lawsuit she filed in 2011, after being fired from her job in November 2010.

The lawsuit maintained that then-Mayor Marlin Kuykendall had contacted a member of the Humane Society board and threatened that the YHS/city relationship was at risk if the organization did not silence Riley’s on-going criticism of the city.

The jury unanimously rejected that scenario, however, finding against Riley on both her claim that Kuykendall violated her First Amendment right to free speech, and that he interfered with her employment.

Kuykendall, who attended the 10-day trial and testified last week, said Friday afternoon that he and his wife Tana – a co-defendant in the lawsuit – were “extremely happy that it’s finally come to a conclusion. It’s been a long six or seven years.”

Kuykendall declined to comment on the details of the case, saying, “It’s played out over such a long time, and it’s finally over.”

Riley confirmed Friday afternoon that the case is, indeed, over. In a telephone interview after the verdict, she said there would be no appeal of the decision.

“No,” she said in response to a question on the possibility of an appeal. “My legal fees have been over $1 million.” Because the case was done on contingency, she said that it would be a loss to the firm. She was represented throughout by the Martin & Bonnett law firm and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We all felt it was a strong case,” Riley said. Still, she added, “You never know what a jury is going to hear, or how it’s going to play out.”

Of the results, Riley said, “I’m sorry I didn’t win, but I’m glad I tried. I still feel I was right.”

Riley maintains that some of the testimony given in the courtroom by the Humane Society and city witnesses was “very untrue.” For her part, she said, “I was honest the whole time; I never lied, and I never deleted evidence.”

One of the early results of the litigation was a sanction against the city for improper deletion of 24 emails. U.S. District Judge James Teilborg earlier awarded $30,000 in attorneys’ costs against the city for the “spoliation” of evidence, and instructed jury members on Thursday, Dec. 15, that they should assume the content of the deleted emails would have been favorable to Riley’s case, and harmful to the city’s.

Paladini said Friday afternoon that the city still would be liable to pay the sanction amount to Riley’s side, although he was uncertain of the details of the payment.

Likewise, the city will be out the more than $250,000 it spent defending against the lawsuit. “We can’t get (an award) of attorneys’ fees,” Paladini said. “The process doesn’t allow it. It’s unfortunate, but that’s sometimes the cost of doing business as a city.”

Although Paladini did not have an updated total Friday afternoon on how much the case has cost the city, he said he was confident that it would exceed $250,000.

Anything above the $250,000 amount will be the responsibility of Traveler’s Insurance – the city’s insurer above the $250,000 self-insurance amount, Paladini said.

Noting that the jury had spent about four to five hours deliberating the case, Paladini said, “We believe they came to the right decision. There was no evidence of any kind of a threat or command or direction (by the city) to the Humane Society (about Riley).”

He added: “At the end of the day, the Humane Society let (Riley) go for its own reasons; it had nothing to do with the city.”