Mistrial declared in KID lawsuit

A mistrial was declared Tuesday in the wrongful termination lawsuit for a former Kennewick Irrigation District employee.

Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner granted the defense motion for mistrial based on testimony Friday that referred to George Fearing, KID's lawyer, as the attorney for KID's insurance company.

The dismissal means fired engineering manager Brad Wellenbrock will have to seek a new trial and start over in Benton County Superior Court. Wellenbrock's attorney, Jack Sheridan of Seattle, finished with his witnesses Friday.

Fearing said he planned to call his first witnesses Tuesday morning.

John Pringle, a former longtime KID board member, was at the courthouse in anticipation of being called as a defense witness at the start of what was to be the second week of trial. The jury was expected to consider the case by week's end.

Sheridan had called William Kinsel, a former KID board member for 25 years, to testify Friday about events involving another board member, Loren Watts, and Wellenbrock's complaints that Watts had been taking KID water without authorization for his construction business.

At one point, Kinsel described Fearing as "the insurance company lawyer."

That statement was the trigger for the mistrial, Fearing said Tuesday.

"The law is clear that in a case like this, insurance is not to be mentioned. Insurance companies are considered deep pockets and most juries don't like insurance companies," Fearing explained.

"My duty is to KID. I do what is best for KID. My loyalty is to KID, even though I am paid by KID's insurance company," he said.

Sheridan said his client may be disappointed but would not challenge the judge's decision.

"We respect the judge's ruling, and we will gear up to do it again as soon as possible," he said.

After declaring a mistrial, the judge spent 10 minutes talking with the jury behind closed doors, then the attorneys had their turn to listen to jurors' comments about the case.

"The jury understood our claims. I think we would have done well had we gone to completion," Sheridan said.

Wellenbrock claims he was fired from his $81,000-a-year job in late 2007 as retaliation after complaining about several incidents where Watts allegedly took advantage of his position on the board to benefit himself and his company, Watts Construction.