The Reporter covers Miller, Morgan and Camden County in Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks and is published once per week on Wednesdays.
Published June 13, 2018
Federal judge rules in favor of commissioners
CAMDEN COUNTY - The lawsuit between Rowland Todd and Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty, Commissioners Beverly Thomas and Don Williams is over.
Todd was claiming the commissioners violated his First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech because he spoke out against what he felt was the county wasting money in the hiring of a new Human Resources Administrator and also claims that Hasty publicly called him a thief in that he “stole records” from the Human Resource Department.
Todd was suing as an individual against the individual commissioners and not Camden County Clerk vs Camden County Commission.
Federal Judge Brian C. Wimes issued a 16 page ruling last week in favor of the commissioners due mainly to the decision that elected officials speech is not protected by the First Amendment and Todd’s letter sent to the press was not from him as an individual but from him as County Clerk.
Wimes was appointed as District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western District of Missouri by President Barack Obama in September of 2011 and he was sworn in on April 30, 2012.
A press release from the County Commission (written from the Pleban Law firm) explained their take on the judge’s ruling.
“‘The United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri has now entered a summary judgment in favor of Commissioners Hasty, Thomas and Williams on all claims and allegations brought by Todd. The trial was scheduled to begin on August 6 in Jefferson City.
‘A summary judgment means the court made a finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact and as a matter of law the defendants Hasty, Thomas and Williams were entitled to a judgment in their favor. In other words, there was nothing for a jury to decide and therefore, no need for a trial,’ Chet Pleban, one of the attorneys representing the Commissioners, said.”
But a careful reading of the actual judgment handed down by Wimes doesn’t say the commissioners are innocent or guilty in regards to Todd’s claims but that the alleged retaliation by Hasty for the letter is a moot point because the letter is from Todd as Clerk and not as an individual.
And since the letter (according to the judge) is from an elected official then it is not protected speech under the First Amendment.
After that is accepted, all other points of Todd’s claims are irrelevant and would not be something a jury would need to consider and “therefore, no need for a trial,” as Pleban stated.
The judge explained the matter in one section of his ruling.
“The concerns expressed in Plaintiff’s letter arise from Plaintiff’s role as Clerk, and his inside knowledge of the internal county office functions. The letter discusses the Clerk’s role in discharging its duty to supervise county payroll, and the obstacles presented by the introduction of the separate HR office. The concerns and criticisms raised point to HR’s interference with the Clerk’s efficient discharge of official duties. Moreover, under the uncontroverted facts, the letter reflects the same concerns about HR that Plaintiff expressed to Defendants in the time leading up to February 2017. Additionally, Plaintiff said he would have provided a copy of his letter in response to a Sunshine request, which suggests Plaintiff considered the letter to be subject to public disclosure as an official county document. Therefore, the Court concludes the letter owed its existence to Plaintiff’s official role as the Camden County Clerk.
“Even if the letter includes matters of public concern, as well as matters of personal interest relating to Plaintiff’s official role as Clerk, the content, form, and context of letter establishes that Plaintiff was acting primarily as an employee. Bailey, 451 F.3d 15 518. Because the record establishes that the letter was mostly intended to further Plaintiff’s interests in his ability to fulfill his role as Clerk, the concerns expressed in the letter are not protected speech, even if the public may have a general interest in the concerns presented. Id. For all of these reasons, the Court concludes that Plaintiff’s letter does not amount to speech from Plaintiff as a citizen speaking on a matter of public concern. Because there is no genuine issue material that the letter is not speech from a citizen on a matter of public concern, Plaintiff does not have a viable First Amended cause of action based on Defendants’ reactions to the letter as a matter of law,” said Wimes in his ruling.
(It should be noted that elected officials are not employees of the county, like a janitor, but are hired by and are employees of the people in the county that elected them).
The judge’s ruling also stated in the uncontroverted facts section that Todd did not do anything wrong.
“On March 17, 2017, the Investigation Report was released publicly, based on the investigating attorneys’ recommendation. Defendants were advised not to read or review the report before its release, and they did not. The Investigation Report ultimately concluded there was no hostile work environment that could predicate a viable claim for employment discrimination against Camden County. The Investigation Report also concluded there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Plaintiff (Todd) committed a crime, failed to perform duties as the county Clerk, or violated any privacy laws by responding to the Sunshine request for Christensen’s payroll records.”
It is unknown how much money the suit cost Todd (who used his own funds) or the county (who has insurance for lawsuits).
Both Todd and Hasty are up for re-election in August and both face challengers.
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