Former county racial-bias analyst threatens suit
The lawyer for Amanda Lamb, a Multnomah County racial disparities analyst fired for giving a public presentation of her work in Las Vegas, has threatened a lawsuit against Multnomah County and the state of Oregon.
Lamb had spearheaded an interactive data "dashboard" intended for public use, one that melded data from prosecutors, police, probation officers and the courts and was intended to put Multnomah County on the cutting edge of combating racial disparities that continue to fuel distrust and alienation among the public nationwide.
Nearly two months after her public presentation of the draft results, Lamb abruptly was placed on leave Dec. 6, then fired Dec. 8, prompting concern from activists and the public.
Lamb's lawsuit threat links her firing to an effort to "stifle free speech" by the county, and says she intends to seek relief for "lost wages, loss of career advancement, emotional distress, attorney fees and punitive damages."
Lamb, who previously had been fired by ex-Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton shortly after reporting on racial disparities there, now works for the city of Portland's Independent Police Review division.
County officials defended Lamb's firing at the time, saying the information she used, taken from the multi-agency justice "data warehouse" that she worked with, was not allowed to be disclosed without permission. "The bottom line is she was not authorized to disclose the information, and the county cannot overlook that," said Multnomah County Communications Director Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.
While there was a nondisclosure agreement pertaining to the data involved, Lamb never signed it, according to her lawyer's letter.
The letter also echoes documents and interviews obtained by the Portland Tribune showing that displeasure from local judges — who threatened to pull court data from the racial disparities project if Lamb was involved — helped drive the county's stance toward Lamb, as the newspaper reported in late December.
A newly obtained text message from Judge Nan Waller, at the time the presiding judge for Multnomah Circuit Court, coincides neatly with the county placing her on leave Dec. 6. The timing suggests that the personnel action against Lamb was driven by Waller's input.
Sent to Lamb's boss, Abbey Stamp, at 5:52 p.m. that day, Waller wrote, "Hi Abbey, sorry to bother you but since we didn't hear from you by the end of the day as to whether Amanda will continue to be involved in (justice data warehouse) projects while you are out, I wanted to give you a head's up. If Amanda is going to be involved we will hold off on data uploads to (the justice data warehouse) and will not have our staff participating in projects until this is resolved. Nan"
In effect, the court's action would have pulled the plug on the entire racial disparities project and other criminal justice research.
Lamb's lawsuit threat, called a tort claims notice, cites the Tribune interview with Waller and accuses the judge of "stepping outside her judicial authority."
In the interview, Waller — who has given numerous presentations on combating bias in the justice system — criticized Lamb's presentation as unfair and oversimplified.
The letter from Lamb's lawyer, Sean Ridell, panned Waller's threat to withhold the court's data, saying it is a public record.
Sullivan-Springhetti said the county does not comment on pending litigation.
An Oregon Judicial Department media relations manager, Phil Lemman, defended Waller's actions. "We believe the tort claim notice mis-characterizes several alleged 'facts,' and will work within the established legal process to fully respond," Lemman said.
Nearly four months ago, in the wake of Lamb's firing, county Chair Deborah Kafoury vowed to continue to push to make the disparity dashboard Lamb had worked on public.
However, that has not happened yet, because data-sharing agreements are still being worked out between law enforcement agencies, the county and the courts — the same explanation the county has given the Tribune since January 2017.
"A team of analysts are working on the tool so it will be ready once agreements are finalized," said Jessica Morkert-Shibley, a county spokeswoman.