Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 2, 2013

Sheriff Bill Elfo Sued by Former Deputy Over Alleged Retaliation

This is a story that has been slowly unfolding over the last year and now will finally see its day in in court. Paul Murphy, former Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputy, is suing Sheriff Bill Elfo for wrongful termination. Murphy alleges Elfo retaliated against him for not supporting his reelection campaign and assisting one of his opponents. He is represented by Robert Butler and the case will be heard in Western Washington District Federal Court. You can read the legal complaint here.

Former Deputy Paul Murphy

Former Deputy Paul Murphy

How did this all unfold? Back in 2011, Bill Elfo was running for his third term as sheriff. Despite a relatively positive profile with the public, there was some unrest within the sheriff’s office and two of his deputies (Deputy Bob Taylor and Detective Steve Harris) ran against their boss for the top job. During this time, Paul Murphy created the “Campaign to un-elect Elfo” facebook page and during his off hours, used it to air negative stories about Bill Elfo.

I met Murphy during this time, as I was helping Steve Harris organize a doorbelling operation. He struck me as a determined man, a little overly passionate at times, but always professional.

During the 2011 campaign, Elfo allegedly began monitoring the facebook page from work and contacted the county attorney to see if Murphy could be fired for maintaining the anti-Elfo facebook page. The county attorney told him no.

After the election (Elfo won in a landslide, despite his opponent receiving the coveted Political Junkie endorsement), Elfo called Murphy into his office and asked him to resign. Murphy refused. Over the next six months, Elfo allegedly hunted around for a reason to fire Murphy and finally, on June 22, 2012 he terminated Murphy for allegedly mishandling a County hard drive and being “oftentimes insubordinate”.

Murphy consulted with an attorney and launched his lawsuit and now will have his day in court. The facebook page in question is still live, by the way, under the guise of “Boot Bill Elfo” and currently has 449 likes.

Obviously, this case is going to be one for the courts to decide, but it highlights some of the challenges of working in public institutions. When your boss is elected by the public, do you have an obligation to stand by him for reelection? What about the pressure within the workplace to support their reelection effort? Especially for positions that are not overtly political, like county sheriff, auditor or treasurer.  As a manager, can you fire an employee simply for believing that someone else could do your job better?



  1. Elfo’s job performance has been over and above what we need. Example: he is supporting double the amount of jail we should pay for.

  2. Thank you for a fair assessment of a lengthy and complicated issue, and for helping to break the local media block of the story, Riley.

    “He struck me as a determined man, a little overly passionate at times, but always professional.” <—Sounds about right and I liked it. Becoming a target of men in powerful positions can make one feel a bit like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, I suppose. 🙂

    I would also like to point out that there's a significant back-story as it relates to why two deputies put themselves at risk to run against Elfo in the first place, as well as why Elfo lost my support, where I had been an avid and loyal supporter previous to two key events.

    Had the local media done what they should have done, it's doubtful to me that Elfo would be sheriff right now. Just my opinion of course, but Elfo won primarily because of his efforts to silence people like me, not because he was the better candidate.

    We'll see how it plays out as the citizens of Whatcom County learn the backstory and the efforts Elfo directed to keep it all hidden from the public.

  3. Hard to say what the Judge will decide in this case. It’s always difficult to fire someone – saying he was “insubordinate” probably means he didn’t have a good attitude at work, maybe. Or, kind of seems like he took a whistleblower role which the Sheriff was very unhappy about. Interesting that Sheriff Elfo won his reelection inspite of the campaign against him.

    • Isn’t this the man I wrote a letter supporting because he was in favor of a right-size affordable jail in Bellingham? No good deed goes unpunished again.

  4. Becoming a target to anyone in power can be a nightmare. You and and your beautiful wife are in my prayers. There is obviously something the Elf is hiding. Many power hungry people in a position of power, feel they “have an entitlement” to misuse that power. Consequently, they get themselves in a mess, Then they look for a scapegoat. I have seen it firsthand. I hope and pray our Just Lord brings swift justice, and may those things in the shadows be brought into the light.

    • Thank you kindly, Theresa. The past 5 years have been very rough on us both.

  5. Where did the May 24th date come from, Riley? It was filed on April 24th and subpoenas are being issued according to PACER, but no dates set yet that I can see.

    • Ah, I misinterpreted the press release which made reference to the 24th. I’ll fix it.

      • No worries. Just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing an important date. 🙂

  6. I dont understand how anyone can say Elfo is a sheriff? How safe would you feel having someone as large and unfit as him protect you or does he just sit behind a desk…..Some one should check in to the background of some of his deputies he has hired it is very scary. Paul we support you all the way!!! Elfo only got in because he has Lynden backing him.
    Harris should be our sheriff…..

    • Thank you kindly, Jenny. It means a lot. 🙂

  7. Mr. Murphy, I just wanted to let you know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I applaud the fact that you supported who you wanted to, EVEN though he was your boss at the time. You are a man who stands by his beliefs, and Lord only knows how we need people like you in all job industries. 🙂 I would wish you luck, but I don’t believe you need it. Let the righteous prevail!!!

    • Thank you kindly, Kelly.

      I’ve said it before and Mr. Elfo has said it as well in agreement that deputies do not surrender their own constitutional rights to become deputies.

      In theory, any deputy or officer has the right to support and vote for whom they choose, without interference or coercion from anyone, no matter their role or position.

      In practice though, that’s another matter entirely and central to this case.

  8. […] Murphy filed suit for wrongful termination and his case is scheduled for trial next May. […]

  9. […] the lawsuit launched by Paul Murphy last year, paying Murphy $300,000 for wrongful termination. My original coverage is here and a number of local news sources, including the Herald, wrote about this when it got settled […]

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