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County settles lawsuit involving former deputy

Hubbard County will pay an Akeley woman a structured settlement worth $640,000 to settle a lawsuit against it and a former deputy sheriff accused of sexually assaulting her while on duty.

The Hubbard County Board went into closed session Tuesday afternoon with its attorney and voted to allow the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust to pay Kristy Barsch to settle her civil rights lawsuit.

Barsch, a mother of two, alleged former deputy Greg Siera sexually assaulted her in the fall of 2008.

Siera resigned one year ago under pressure after being placed on paid administrative leave following the incident.

Criminal charges in the matter were never filed when Clearwater County Attorney Jeanine Brand said she could not prove the case against Siera beyond a reasonable doubt. Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne, citing a conflict of interest, sent the matter to the neighboring county.

Siera invoked his Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination and declined to voluntarily provide statements to investigators. He was ordered to provide DNA samples by a district judge. He is now a college student obtaining a nursing degree.

Barsch's $2 million lawsuit followed. She named Hubbard County, Siera, Akeley and two of its officers for failing to investigate her charges; she named the governmental units for neglecting to properly supervise the officers she alleged were derelict.

Akeley settled the case last fall for $55,000.

"Hers is closer to $500,000 than the total settlement," said her attorney Bob Bennett of Minneapolis, of the amount she will receive from the Hubbard County settlement. "She gets a lot of that, more of it than I do by a fair amount. My fees are none of your business."

Most standard contingency agreements with plaintiffs' attorneys are a 60-40 split, which would put the Barsch settlement at $384,000, not $500,000.

"But what does that got to do with anything?" Bennett asked "She has to pay somebody to go get the money for her. They weren't going to do that voluntarily."

Bennett said part of Barsch's settlement would be cash; part will be an annuity from which she will derive a regular income.

"That was at her election," Bennett said.

Hubbard County Coordinator Jack Paul said a formal news announcement would follow the settlement, but one had not been issued by the time the Enterprise went to press early Friday.

The settlement "was not the amount of payment made in the absence of serious wrongdoing, nor the type of payment that commissioners should or would approve unless there was compelling evidence that Ms. Barsch's allegations were, in fact, true," Bennett said.

"When a sheriff's deputy invokes Fifth Amendment protections to avoid giving a statement to either the BCA or Barsch's civil counsel, that's a bad fact for Hubbard County who employed him," he added.

Bennett said the county admitted no wrongdoing; commissioners have declined to discuss the case or the settlement.

"I shouldn't think they'd pay $640,000 if they didn't think they did something wrong," Bennett asserted.

Paul said he anticipated the county's insurance premium will rise slightly, but said the settlement is spread over the pool of premiums all 87 counties pay to the insurance trust.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court. A settlement conference was scheduled for late fall, in which a judge suggested the settlement amount and MCIT agreed, after assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the county's position.

"When the cops take the Fifth, that's a bad fact, I would think for Hubbard County, isn't it?" Bennett asked "I know that's what the judge thought."

Paul said settling was cheaper than litigating the matter.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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