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Spokane's former top health official Bob Lutz sues Spokane Regional Health District

Spokane Regional Health District

Spokane County’s former top health official has filed a lawsuit against the Spokane Regional Health District, accusing the agency and its leader of defamation, violating state law, and violating his right to free speech and due process.

Dr. Bob Lutz was the face of the Spokane Regional Health District’s pandemic response until October of 2020, when he was removed from his post by the health district’s administrator, Amelia Clark, and officially fired by the Spokane Board of Health a week later.

In a lawsuit filed this week, Lutz argues that sequence of events violated both state law, and his constitutional rights.

Leading up to his firing, Lutz had a strained relationship with Clark and some members of the county Board of Health over his stances on re-opening the economy, and the connections between racism, guns and public health issues. The Spokane County Commissioners were pushing for the county to re-open from coronavirus restrictions as soon as possible, a move Lutz argued publicly, and in his lawsuit, was not supported by science.

The board at the time was made up of the three Spokane County Commissioners, representatives from the city of Spokane, Spokane Valley, and Millwood and also included a few community members.

According to his lawsuit, Lutz met with a few board members and Clark several times over the summer and fall, to discuss conflicts with Clark and other issues, before a meeting in late October when Clarke presented him with a severance package and had him escorted from the premises.

A preliminary investigation conducted by the Washington Board of Health last year concluded Lutz was illegally fired.

Lutz alleged in his lawsuit that Clark, and the health district misled the public by mischaracterizing his firing, that the health district damaged his reputation by sharing unproven accusations about him in a public hearing, and that the health district conducted that hearing improperly. He is also accusing the health district of violating his free speech rights by retaliating against him for his public statements and editorials on health policy, and attendance of a Black Lives Matter protest.

In his lawsuit, Lutz is calling for his reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, attorneys fees, and punitive damages.

A spokesperson for the health district says the agency is not commenting on the suit and directed questions to an attorney representing the district. A court date for the suit is scheduled in May.

The full text of the lawsuit is available here:

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.