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Patridge accused of retaliation by deputy D.A.

Klamath County Deputy District Attorney Sharon Forster is alleging retaliation by her boss, District Attorney Rob Patridge, after Forster raised harassment allegations against Sheriff Frank Skrah, according to recently released county records.

In an online article written by former Herald and News reporter Shelby King for the Portland Mercury publication, Forster accused Patridge of doing nothing when she complained that Skrah had sexually harassed her.

“Worse, Forster says Patridge robbed her of responsibility when the sheriff filed his own complaints,” King wrote.

The allegations come in an Oct. 12 tort claim notice naming Patridge, the state of Oregon, and Klamath County as potential defendants, and alleging “unlawful employment practices.”

A tort claim notice isn’t a lawsuit, and the person who submits one isn’t obliged to prove his or her case. But by filing the notice, Forster is giving required warning that she has enough of a case to file a lawsuit, King wrote.

In addition to being the Klamath County district attorney, Patridge is chairman of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and has been in the news often as the OLCC wrestles with developing rules for marijuana use in the state. Patridge is a former Medford City Council member and Medford-area state legislator.

Forster alleges that she was prevented from performing her duties as deputy DA and was discouraged by Patridge from filing further claims against Skrah. The letter said she may be seeking unspecified monetary damages for economic losses, personal damages and legal fees.

According to the letter, Forster made a formal complaint to Patridge in August 2014, alleging Skrah made “sexually inappropriate comments” to her. The county then hired an investigator who ultimately substantiated Forster’s complaint, according to the letter.

The day after Forster notified Patridge, Skrah and an unnamed department head filed a complaint against Forster alleging concerns over her demeanor, according to the letter. Forster claims this was retaliation for her original complaint.

While these allegations were pending, Patridge removed Forster from participating in the county’s Major Crimes Team, which is led by Patridge. Forster was also told to have no direct communication with Skrah or the unnamed department head.

Forster said although this inhibited her ability to prosecute cases, she complied with the directive.

Forster said Skrah and members of the sheriff’s office then committed acts of retaliation, including allegedly searching her and depriving her of her cell phone when entering the jail, which she said other prosecutors were not required to do.

Forster filed a second complaint in February, though this time investigators concluded there was insufficient evidence of a violation.

Forster said Patridge has since discouraged her from filing further complaints against Skrah as doing so may result in a counter-complaint from the sheriff.

On Sept. 4, the letter said Patridge presented Forster with a written reprimand for alleged uncivil behavior in the courthouse toward Skrah. Forster’s letter denied this allegation, and said it is she who has been made to feel uncomfortable around Skrah.

Despite the earlier conclusions of the two complaints, Forster’s letter said, she was only recently allowed to participate again with the Major Crimes Team.

Forster said both Skrah’s and Patridge’s actions “are part of an ongoing pattern and practice of retaliation,” for her original complaint.

Forster’s tort letter was addressed both to Patridge and county Commissioner Tom Mallams, as well as the state Department of Administrative Services. According to a search of state and federal court records, Forster has yet to formally file a lawsuit.

When interviewed Wednesday, Patridge said he could not comment on the tort letter as it is both a personnel matter and represents possible litigation.

Requests for comment from Forster, Skrah, and County Counsel Dave Groff were not returned by press time.

The Herald and News filed a public records request in September with Klamath County about the incidents, but has yet to receive the information. While other documents have been released, Groff previously said his office is continuing to process Forster’s complaint for publication.