A judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit in which three longtime courthouse employees contend county Clerk of Court Mary M. Rose fired them for political reasons.
The three employees, with more than 80years combined tenure at the courthouse, filed a $6 million lawsuit in January to get their jobs back.
The suit was filed two days after Rose fired Carroll L. "Bunky" George II, the chief deputy clerk, and Bolton H. Rankin, an assistant chief deputy in charge of land records.
The third employee, DonaldC. Ward, the assistant chief deputy supervising courtroom clerks, had been offered a demotion -- and a pay cut of about $10,000 -- but refused the offer and resigned "under duress," the suit states.
The employees contend Rose's actions were politically motivated revenge for their support of former clerk H. Erle Schafer, a Democrat defeatedby Rose in the November general election.
She had asked the threemen for their resignations immediatelyafter taking office in December, but the men fought the request, arguing that all personnel moves had to be approved by Robert C. Murphy, chief judge of the state Courtof Appeals. Rose, who had questioned the competence of the employees, sent reports on them to Murphy, apparently convincing him they should go.
In a ruling dated Tuesday and received by lawyers yesterday, Howard County Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr., without comment, denied Rose's motion to dismiss the case. Assistant Attorney General Julia M. Freit, who represents the state's Circuit Court clerks inlegal matters, said she did not know why the judge denied her motion.
She said she had argued that the suit should be dismissed because it was not properly filed and, more substantively, because Rose followed the law, as outlined in state Administrative Office of the Courts rules, in firing the men.
Freit said she did not anticipate thecase going to trial. She said she would ask for a summary judgment, in which a judge settles questions of law after determining the factsof the case are not in dispute, on whether the firing was legal.
After hearing yesterday of the ruling, Rose said, "My attitude is that democracy is on trial, not me. I pledged to make management changesduring the election campaign and I kept that promise. This is basically a fight with the bureaucrats who think they have a lifetime job regardless of their performance."
Alan H. Legum, attorney for the three men, said he expects thecase to go to trial. He also said it was"ludicrous" that Freit claimed no understanding of the judge's ruling, since his argument had been based on an appeals court case that she had lost. In that case, a deputy clerk in Carroll County established the right to sue for wrongful discharge if the firing was for political reasons, he said.
Legum then took a shot at Rose for hiring Robert P. Duckworth, a Republican who has announced a second run for Congress, as her chief deputy clerk in June. Rose is a member of Duckworth's campaign committee.
"If she wants to show the firing of Carroll George was not for political reasons, she's certainly doing it in a strange way."
No trial date has been set. Freit said a judge from outside the county was assigned to hear the case to avoid the appearance of impropriety.