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Schuylkill County News

Judge Orders County to Make Critical Decision on Jane Doe Suspensions

It’s you-know-what or get off the pot time for Schuylkill County government officials.

It’s you-know-what or get off the pot time for some Schuylkill County officials.

The federal Judge presiding over the Jane Doe sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against them just ordered Courthouse officials to make a big decision about part of their defense.

This decision is in regard to the so-called independent investigation they hired the law firm of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin, and Mellott LLC to conduct into suspected unauthorized use of LexisNexis.

Schuylkill County is saying 2 of the Jane Doe plaintiffs used LexisNexis for purposes other than their job and put the personal identification data of thousands of people at risk.

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They’ve been suspended from their jobs without pay since at least September 2021.

The Jane Doe plaintiffs in question deny they used LexisNexis as the County suggests. They say the County is retaliating against them for filing the initial sexual harassment lawsuit.

Did Schuylkill County Really Rely on Advice of Independent Snoopgate Investigator?

Since suspending these two Jane Doe plaintiffs from their jobs, the County has twice tried to fire them.

Schuylkill County Commissioners openly discussed their alleged actions in public and it seemed as though they coordinated some public comments during their open meetings to vilify them.

However, each time, the Commissioners haven’t had the votes to sack the employees.

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Commissioner George Halcovage, at the center of the initial sexual harassment lawsuit, has abstained from voting on the terminations, citing a conflict of interest.

Chairman Boots Hetherington has been in favor of the firings. He’s been quite adamant about it.

But the hang-up has been Commissioner Gary Hess, who has balked each time. Prior to the second attempt at firing the employees for these alleged offenses, Hess called for a vote to hire an outside investigator to look into these actions and if the County would be justified in canning them.

Schuylkill County Commissioners hired the firm of Eckert, Seamons, Cherin, and Mellott LLC to do that investigation.

Several months after they hired them came the second vote to fire them.

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During that public meeting, the County referenced an investigation report, though it was unclear if it was the one the law firm allegedly did, the one they were hired to do, or if the County conducted its own investigation and used that as justification for their action.

Now, in an order from US Magistrate Martin Carlson, the judge says the County must decide: did you use the so-called independent investigation at all in making your decision?

That’s because the attorney representing the plaintiffs wants to see what this so-called independent law firm said in its report.

We’d all like to see what’s in this report, actually. In addition to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, The Canary and RepublicanHerald tried to obtain a copy of the investigation findings through Schuylkill County’s arduous and often fruitless Right to Know process.

We were each denied.

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Carlson says that normally such communications would be protected under attorney-client privilege but there are exceptions to that rule and this fits such an exception.

The only way Schuylkill County can keep this report a secret is to tell the judge they did not reference it whatsoever in making their decision to move forward with the firings.

So, here’s the rub for the County.

If the County says it did rely on that investigation, they’ll need to cough up some details on it. That could be bad for the government. There’s a reason they didn’t want to release this report, if it even exists.

But if the County says it didn’t rely on any part of the investigation it hired Eckert, Seamons, Cherin, and Mellott LLC to do, then they’ll be admitting to wasting the amount of money it cost to have it done.

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