Federal suit filed against county, clerk-recorder | TheUnion.com

Federal suit filed against county, clerk-recorder

Just as election campaigns are launching, a federal lawsuit could cloud one local race.

The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, alleges Nevada County and Clerk-Recorder Gregory Diaz broke a contract between the county and AtPac, the Auburn firm that provided software and consulting services for a decade to the Clerk-Recorder’s Office.

AtPac is asking for an unspecified sum in damages. (To read the complaint for damages and injunctive relief in the case of AtPac. v. Aptitude Solutions et al., click on the PDF in this document.)

Diaz is seeking election to the post he was appointed to in 2007. Grass Valley lawyer Barry Pruett also has announced plans to run for the clerk-recorder post.

AtPac’s legal move surprised county officials, who have been in negotiations with the plaintiffs.

“This is the first I’ve heard,” Nevada County counsel Michael Jamison said Friday. “We believed, on the county’s end, that we were still in discussions with AtPac through their attorney to resolve any areas of concern. This has been going on for months.”

The suit also raises the issue of ownership of the software and information provided by AtPac, which lost its contract in 2009 when Nevada County began using the services of competitor Aptitude Solutions. The Florida-based firm also is named in the suit.

“We believe the evidence will show (Nevada County) disclosed confidential information in violation of the contract,” said AtPac lawyer Michael Thomas. “The contract protected AtPac’s intellectual property rights, and we believe the county did not comply and disclosed that information improperly.”

The suit also alleges the county and Diaz personally violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Diaz was unavailable for comment Friday.

The lawsuit claims AtPac signed a contract with Nevada County in 1999 to provide software and services to help the county electronically maintain and organize public information such as marriage licenses.

When Nevada County switched providers in 2009, according to the suit, it provided Aptitude with “direct and unfettered access to AtPac’s software and source code.”

“Furthermore, Nevada County employees openly posted AtPac’s trade secret information and copyrighted screen shots on a publicly available Docushare site … and e-mailed confidential and proprietary screen shots and other information to Aptitude.

“Not only are Nevada County’s actions in direct violation of its contract with AtPac, but the defendants’ actions constitute trade secret misappropriation, copyright infringement and a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” the lawsuit reads.

Diaz was named in the suit because he “was directly involved personally in the disclosure of confidential information to my client’s competition,” Thomas said.

Jamison was “very surprised” to hear of the suit, he said, and did not want to comment in depth until he had seen it.

AtPac’s attorneys had sent public records requests relating to the county’s use of their programs, Jamison added.

“We had provided them extensive records, which we believed they were in the process of reviewing,” Jamison said. “When that process was completed to their satisfaction, it was our understanding we would meet to discuss any issues.”

“We have had some discussion,” Thomas said, adding AtPac was not opposed to continuing negotiations.

“County counsel knows where I am, and they’re certainly welcome to contact me if they want to,” Thomas said. “The pendency of litigation does not exclude the parties from working towards the resolution of a dispute.

“But if my client does not resolve the case, we certainly look forward to vindicating their rights in court.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.

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