Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. | Screenshot from Tuesday’s meeting.


It has come to this: Humboldt County is suing its own auditor-controller, Karen Paz Dominguez.

That was one of two bombshell announcements from Deputy County Counsel Natalie Duke this morning as county supervisors emerged from a closed session conference with legal counsel during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The other bombshell was that the five county supervisors had voted not to defend Paz Dominguez in the State of California’s lawsuit against her, in both her personal and professional capacities, for failure to comply with government-mandated financial reporting requirements.

The county itself is named as a co-defendant in the suit, which was filed in Humboldt County Superior Court on May 2. During this morning’s closed session conference the board voted unanimously to hire Grass Valley-based law firm Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley as defense counsel.

The vote not to defend Paz Dominguez in the process was also unanimous, as was the decision to have Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley file a cross-complaint against Paz Dominguez.

Asked for more information on the cross-complaint, County Administrative Officer Elishia Hayes submitted the following statement:

The action brought by the California Attorney General and the State Controller’s Office has the full attention of the Board of Supervisors, and the county will take all appropriate action to rectify the issues in the complaint.

All of these circumstances affect the county’s ability to provide services, and the Board remains focused on protecting the most vulnerable in our community, and that will not change.

However, these are now legal matters. While others may try to litigate these issues in the press, the county is choosing to preserve the integrity of the legal process and will not discuss these issues further with the media.

That last remark likely refers to another story the Outpost is working on regarding a threatened lawsuit from two Paz Dominguez supporters, Thomas Edrington and Kent Sawatzky. Last month, Edrington emailed a “notice of intent to sue” the Humboldt County supervisors over allegations that county leaders have actively sought to sabotage Paz Dominguez and her electoral prospects in violation of state and county regulations.

The Outpost asked Paz Dominguez and other county personnel to respond to more detailed allegations from Edrington, and while other departments declined to comment on the threatened litigation, Paz Dominguez did so via email, corroborating a number of Edrington’s accusations. We’ll report on those matters in more depth in a future post. Edrington and Sawatzky have not yet filed a lawsuit.

Asked to respond to today’s announcements, Paz Dominguez said she doesn’t know what the county’s cross-complaint will allege and “can only speculate on the Board’s political motivations for choosing to take this action without seeking understanding and resolution with my office first.”

She plans to review the situation with her own legal counsel and “will provide information as deemed appropriate by them until this matter is resolved.”

To recap from our previous coverage, the People of the State of California (as represented by the state Attorney General’s Office) are suing the county and Paz Dominguez for failure to file the county’s adopted budgets on time for two years in a row and failure to file two years’ worth of Financial Transaction Reports “in the time, form, and manner prescribed by the State Controller.”

The state is asking the court for an order requiring Paz Dominguez to pay a forfeiture of $10,000 — two fines of $5,000 apiece — and an order requiring the county to pay a forfeiture of $2,000 for these delayed and/or improperly submitted reports. The state also seeks a writ of mandate requiring Paz Dominguez “to perform her mandatory statutory duties” and submit the overdue reports correctly.

Today’s announcements reflect the unprecedented degree of animus that has developed and steadily worsened in recent years between Paz Dominguez and county leadership, including department heads and the Board of Supervisors.

In November the board approved a vote of “no confidence” in Paz Dominguez over concerns about delinquent fiscal reporting, communication problems and other financial management issues. Last month, 13 of the county’s 19 department heads signed a memo alleging that Paz Dominguez has failed to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of her position, causing a financial crisis for the county.

Paz Dominguez, meanwhile, has alleged that individual supervisors and various department heads have actively worked to sabotage her efforts to modernize the county’s fiscal management operations. She says they’ve left her office chronically short-staffed while refusing to cooperate with her reform efforts and demands for thorough substantiation of charges.