Shelton, WA (3-24-15) — After many years serving the community’s homeless and hungry, Kenneth Wayne Benjamin, the charitable non-profit’s director, has decided to close the Community Kitchen, located on S. 2nd between Cota and Railroad, by the end of this month. Staples, equipment (including cups, silverware, soon pots & pans, plates, etc.) were placed on tables for any takers who wished to cart them away today. Word on the street spread fast and it attracted a crowd to the downtrodden venue. Reportedly, Mr. Benjamin has lined up a buyer for the refrigerators and appliances there. How this squares with IRS requirements for a charitable non-profit is anyone’s guess. A meeting at St. David’s Episcopal Church (N. 3rd, Shelton) to discuss the crisis has been called for tomorrow @ 1:00 p.m.
Events contributing to this disconnecting a vital NGO community service are an example of unintended consequences. First, there was burnout. Ken Benjamin had complained of feeding some of the same people for years as they regularly visited the Kitchen. More recently, he began to refer to them as “vultures”. Clearly, it was time for new blood in the management of the soup kitchen, yet Ken bristled at the idea, preferring to scuttle it rather than repaying the community’s support by passing it along to someone able to continue its mission. Some had complained of Ken’s heavy handed efforts to proselytize its clients, but this is common among faith based charities. Others made more sinister allegations that contributed to the erosion of the charity’s underpinnings, Ken Benjamin being one of the most vital.
When contacted by phone, Mr. Benjamin refused to comment on the situation, but did not deny, when asked, that the Community Kitchen was closing its doors. The operation had seen its share of problems including keeping enough volunteers on hand to serve its patrons. Another irritation that bothered Mr. Benjamin was the expense (still owed) to his attorney, Bruce Finlay, for defending him against a specious sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Krista Lynn Kirton and Marry Nolan in Mason County.
The Nolan suit was dismissed out of hand by Judge Pro Tem Dubuisson without the need for a hearing. (Mason County District Court case #:14CV00758) Kirton’s Anti-Harassment suit (Superior Court #14-2-00423-4; RCW 10.14) took a more circuitous and expensive route. Although the complaint was baseless and didn’t even allege a threat of imminent harm, Court Commissioner Sauerlender signed the temporary order restricting Benjamin’s liberties until a full court hearing where he would have an opportunity to defend himself could be had.
Judge Pro Tem Pat Morgan (esq.) presided at Benjamin’s hearing where defense counsel Finlay attempted to introduce evidence of Kirton’s prior filings of several anti-harassment complaints over the years, all of which were denied/dismissed. Judge Morgan refused to allow introduction/consideration or to take judicial notice of that evidence despite it being part of the official court record. The testimony and evidence that were allowed reflected the reality of Kirton’s predilection to drama-queen theatrics. Krista Kirton, it turned out, was a member of the board of directors responsible for oversight of the Community Kitchen. Benjamin claimed, through his attorney, her underlying motive for the lawsuit was to steal a march on taking over the Kitchen under her own supervision. Moreover, the alleged ‘sexual harassment’ consisted of Ken Benjamin inadvertently rubbing against her arm on one occasion and rubbing her shoulders (consensual) to relieve her on-the-job stress on another. The rest of her testimony complained of Benjamin being “rude” to her grandchild (Ken advised her the Kitchen was not a baby sitting service at the time) and using his position there to hustle women patrons/staff. Her witnesses had little/nothing material additionally incriminating to say about Mr. Benjamin.
Although Judge Morgan properly denied relief and dismissed the case after considering all the facts (she characterized the circumstances as part of the normal irritation/frustration associated with human discourse), she created an oxymoron by pronouncing the purpose of RCW 10.14 was not to alleviate such annoyances or make our lives stress free, yet encouraged and complimented Kirton for having filed it. Ironically, Kirton sought (and obtained) a waiver of filing fees based on her claim of indigency, while Ken Benjamin is still saddled with unpaid attorney fees.
RCW 10.14 has become a cesspool of Washington State jurisprudence. It is now used to commit more “harassment” than it prevents as residents fully grasp the implications of being able to drag someone into court at no expense to themselves, suspend the object of their ire’s civil liberties, and…at least for a while…make that person’s daily life a Hell. While denying Kirton’s sought ‘relief’, this is what Judge Morgan encouraged by lauding Kirton’s effort to burden the court (and Ken Benjamin) with a specious complaint.
While a sympathetic character in one light, Ken Benjamin is not without fault or shortcomings of his own. He has repaid the community’s support of the charity he directed by ignoring its constructive suggestions, acting alone without consulting any of the stake holders, and destroying the fruits of the community’s efforts to treat its poor/homeless compassionately. Ken’s solution to his frustrations was not to invite others to take over or direct the work, but to dismantle it entirely. In effect, Ken has spit in the eye of those who made his mission possible and the community which embraced it.
Judge Morgan’s arrogant reasoning is an example of unintended grave consequences. Going to court, filing specious lawsuits, litigating needlessly is not a game of tiddly winks. It has, in this instance (along with Commissioner Sauerlender’s mindless signing of a temporary restraining order without a proper foundation), contributed to the demise of a charitable asset sorely needed in a rural county for its poor and homeless.
p.s. Judge Morgan would not allow this reporter to cover the hearing w/his camera or even retain his coat/hat in her courtroom, stating it would be too “traumatic” for the litigants…contrary to 6th & 1st Amendment guarantees designed to protect their right to a fair, public, and transparent trial!