For those of you who don't know Rick Gehring, owner of Buck's A&W, he is a good guy who has been caught up in the meat grinder of what amounts to a legal system run amuck.
Rick and his wife, Karen were sued in 2004 for sex discrimination by two former employees of their popular Mile Hill Drive eatery, Amanda L. Sandberg and Jennifer K. Johnson. The case involved a former manager of the restaurant, James D. Border, who earned a 20-month prison sentence for sexual misconduct. The sexual misconduct did not involve Rick or Karen directly, nor were they accused of any. However, the suit did claim the Gehring's "aided and abetted" Border's activities, and attorneys for the plaintiffs alleged a "pervasive" atmosphere of sexual harassment led to on-site sexual incidents in 2002.
While the jury in the 2007 trial did find for the plaintiffs and penalized the Gehring's for sex discrimination, awarding $75,000 to Sandberg and $35,000 to Johnson along with "reasonable" attorney's fees, it also absolved Rick and Karen of financial damages.
However, the lawyer representing the two women, Timothy Kosnoff, has now filed an order in U.S. Bankruptcy Court placing Buck's of Port Orchard Inc. into involuntary bankruptcy. The action calls for an independent party to determine the value of the corporation's assets, and alleges that the Gehrings misappropriated money from the corporation to avoid liability for more than $750,000 in attorneys fees.
This is a genuine tragedy. The Gehrings have done more for the kids of South Kitsap for longer, than just about anyone else I can think of. It's been a family tradition that began with Rick's father Buck, and one that Rick and Karen have continued throughout their entire working lives. They are outstanding individuals and corporate citizens who have supported the youth of our community at every opportunity.
Am I missing something here, or is there just something fundamentally wrong when an abusive legal system allows an attorney to collect more than seven times in fees than he won for his client — and bankrupt a business that has been a positive influence in South Kitsap for two generations in the process? Meanwhile, the actual perpetrator of the crime gets off with no financial accountability for his actions.
This is a sad day for all of us here in South Kitsap.