Three senior courthouse employees won yesterday the first round of their fight against new county Clerk of Circuit Court Mary M. Rose's attempt to oust them from their jobs.
Rose responded by renewing her efforts to sack the three career employees, who, combined, have put in more than eight decades at the courthouse.
At a short meeting this morning between the state's highest judge, two administrative Circuit Court judges, state courts officials and Rose and her management consultant, the new clerk was told she was out of line when, on her first day on the job Monday, she ordered the three employees to resign or retire.
Rose was told she had violated a Nov. 29 order signed by Robert C.
Murphy, chief judge of the state Court of Appeals. Under that order, clerks of court throughout the state are barred from hiring, firing, promoting or demoting employees without Murphy's approval.
Last month, voters approved a constitutional amendment moving the clerk of courts operations under the control of the state's Administrative Office of the Courts. Murphy's order fills the time gap between the start of the new term for court clerks and a governor's proclamation to codify the amendment.
That order supersedes an attorney general's opinion on which Rose had based her right to oust the employees, said George B. Riggin Jr., the state courts administrator.
"The net result is the three employees are not terminated," Riggin said.
"She has the opportunity to make a presentation to the court on who will be retained."
Rose left the courthouse late yesterday afternoon to deliver to Murphy what she said was a written report showing why the three employees -- the chief deputy clerk and two of four assistant chief deputies -- should not be retained. Rose refused to comment on yesterday's events, except to say she would abide by Murphy's order.
Rose told the employees Monday that their term ran "concurrent" to the previous clerk's and that she did not intend to reappoint them.
She described the move as "the first step in correcting what I saw as problems."
The employees complained that Rose gave them no reasons for her decision. Rose said she based her decision on assessments made with the help of Donald Devine, a business and government management consultant she says she hired with her own money, and a transition team made up of a handful of area lawyers.
The three employees -- whose salaries range from about $36,000 to $48,000 -- refused Rose's demand to resign. Besides taking their case to the Circuit Court administrative judges who, even before the constitutional amendment, had final say on whom the clerk hires, the employees filed complaints Tuesday with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They charged Rose with age and gender discrimination.
The employees say newly inaugurated court clerks in the past have transferred employees -- moving chief deputies to lower positions, for example -- but have not asked for resignations. The employees have chalked up Rose's move to a political vendetta.
Rose, a Republican from Annapolis, upset Democratic incumbent H. Erle Schafer by a wide margin in last month's election. Rose based her campaign on her ability to manage people.
The new clerk's attempt to get rid of the three longtime employees was met with widespread scorn among courthouse workers.
The three affected employees are Carroll L. "Bunky" George II, 54, the chief deputy clerk under Schafer, who has worked in the courthouse for 29 years; Donald C. Ward, 53, an assistant chief deputy who has worked at the courthouse for 23 years; and Bolton H. "Buster" Rankin, 50, an assistant chief deputy who has worked at the courthouse for 30 years.
The men have retained legal counsel, meeting yesterday with Annapolis attorney Alan H. Legum. "We feel like we're out there in left field with no protection," Rankin said.
George hailed the decision barring Rose from demanding his resignation as a victory.
"I'm completely happy because there were no grounds to start with and I knew the judges would recognize the caliber of people we are," he said.
"We're on trial for something we haven't done."
In the wake of this week's events, Rankin said, "You don't know whether you can be a career employee at the clerk's office or not."