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 November 22, 2017

Husch Blackwell withdraws as commission attorneys

CAMDEN COUNTY – The law firm hired by the county commissioners, Husch Blackwell, have withdrawn from the case and will no longer be representing the three commissioners.

Earlier this month Husch Blackwell LLP (HB) submitted to federal court their request to withdraw stating the reason that another law firm is now representing Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty and Associate Commissioners Beverly Thomas and Don Williams.

“COME NOW, Ryan R. Harding and Taylor B. Concannon, as counsel for Greg Hasty, Don Williams, and Beverly Thomas, pursuant to Local Rule 83.2, and move the Court for an Order granting leave for Husch Blackwell LLP and all attorneys previously or presently associated with Husch Blackwell LLP (‘Counsel’) to withdraw as counsel for Defendants,” the motion states.

If there are any other reasons for the withdrawal they were not stated in the court request.

“Pursuant to Local Rule 83.2, the Court may grant a motion to withdraw upon a ‘showing of good cause, which can be shown by entry of appearance of substitute counsel.’ Rule 1.16 of the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct similarly permits withdrawal on any of several enumerated bases. Counsel submits that good cause exists at this time because John R. Lightner and Katherine A. O’Dell, of Baird Lightner Millsap, P.C., will continue as lead counsel for Defendants.”

County Clerk Rowland Todd filed suit as an individual (not as County Clerk) against the three commissioners (Hasty, Thomas and Williams, also as individuals) in March of this year.

The lawsuit is not “The County Clerk vs the County Commission” but has been filed as an individual suing other individuals.

Todd is 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 HR Administrator.

Todd also claims that Hasty publicly called him a thief in that he “stole records” from the Human Resource Department. Those records were borrowed from Todd’s office by the HR department, which means that Todd is accused of stealing his own records.

A document filed by Todd’s attorney, Jerry M. Kirksey, stated that Hasty called Todd a thief based on advice from legal counsel. The following is from the November 15 court document and claims that the answers are from Hasty.

“Who else, names of persons, that were part of your inquiry as to the truthfulness or not of your statement?
A. It would have been Harvey Tettlebaum, attorney for Husch Blackwell.
Q. Anyone else?
A. And Ryan Harding.

“Did legal counsel tell you to call Rowland a thief?
A. That’s what they called him.
Q. Okay. And who was the legal counsel?
A. Matt Schelp and Mark Milton.

“Well, at the time you made the statement, you talked to Ms. Christensen, Ms. Thomas, and Mr. Williams and then you –
A. Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I talked to Mark Milton and Matt –
Q. Matt Schelp?
A. Matt Schelp. Those are the last two people I talked to before I made the statement.

As to whether Hasty was instructed to make the statement:

“Q. (By Mr. Kirksey) Did they instruct you to say that or not, sir?
A. Well, specifically what they said was, ‘You need to get something out to the public,’ and it was being said in the same context as, yeah, he stole

“You’ve told me them. Anybody else?
A. And Harvey advised me that that was theft.”

The statement may have come from the initial deposition taken of Hasty. None of the depositions that have been taken have been released and more from various individuals are scheduled for future dates.

It is unknown why some of these people are being called to give a deposition and some are being called back to give another deposition and the reasons for a second one are unknown at this time.

Scheduled to give depositions are:

• Commissioner Don Williams for November 17. This is a continuation of his deposition on August 3 of this year. No reason was given for the stopping of his deposition and the long delay in continuing it.
• Commissioner Beverly Thomas for November 27
• Brianna Christensen (former Human Resource Director) for November 29. She was served a subpoena to give a deposition on August 1. This would be a second deposition. The reason for a second one was not stated.
• Greg Hasty for November 29. This is the second deposition of Hasty. His original one was taken on May 17, 2017. This would be a second deposition for Hasty and the reason for a second deposition was not stated in the court records.
• Joyce Miller (from The Lake Sun newspaper) for January 15, 2018. It is unknown why she is being called for a deposition.
• Donnie Snelling (Camden County Recorder) for January 8. 2018. It is also unknown what connection Snelling has with this case.

A recent filing by Todd’s attorney also contained statements from Hasty that the Husch Blackwell “independent” Investigative Report (IR) should not have been released to the public and that Hasty texted about the report on March 15 of this year, two days before the report was dated.

The court document filed on November 15 has the following which claimed to be from Hasty:

“On March 15, 2017, Hasty texts, as related to the IR and his discussion with attorneys – ‘HOME RUN! It’s out of the park! But we have to act like we don’t know anything until we have the report’ ‘I’ve just been given an hour verbal on the contents of the report’ ‘His best case is to resign.’ ‘He’s dead meat.’”

In regards to releasing the IR, the November 15 court document claims that Hasty knew it should not have been released.

“As to whether the report was supposed to be published per County policy, Hasty answers:

“Okay. So as you understood it on any claim of hostile environment, that report and investigation findings are supposed to be confidential, correct?
A. Yes.

“Hasty nevertheless publishes the report

“So you've got an investigative report. And you said something earlier -- I mean, did you understand that this was to be confidential or not?
A. No. We were -- we were told that it was to be immediately disseminated to the public based on the advice of legal counsel.
Q. Well, how would your reading it or not reading it keep it from being independent?
A. I don't know. I just...
Q. Who told this to you?
A. I think it was Ryan.”

Husch Blackwell was hired by the county commissioners to do an “independent” investigation of the alleged hostile work environment. The conclusion of the report was that there was no violation of the law but pointed the finger at Todd, his office staff and former commissioner Cliff Luber.

No deposition or filing of a request for a deposition of Luber has happened and though he was blamed for part of the alleged hostile work environment, he has been excluded from the court case and even from more than a passing reference in the “independent” report, which focused almost solely on Todd.

In the November 15 court filing, Kirksey stated the unfairness, in his opinion, of using the “independent” report authored by the Commissioner’s attorneys.

“The 8th Circuit has spoken of fairness, the integrity of evidence and waiver in the context of parties placing the subject matter of privilege or work product at issue. The 8th Circuit has also specifically addressed a party’s use of an ‘investigation’ conducted by an attorney as evidence. Without complete discovery into the subject matters placed at issue by Defendants (the county commissioners) there is obvious unfairness and abuse of the use of the attorney and privilege.

“The IR report is full of opinions, findings and paraphrased statements of which Plaintiff (Todd) doesn’t have access of information to rebut without receipt of each communication related to the subject matters within the retaliatory publication of the report. Similarly, Hasty’s strategical assertion that the attorneys support his statement is likewise unfair without discovery as to the subject matter. Plaintiff should be allowed discovery as the subject matters within the IR and statements Hasty made calling Plaintiff a thief and threatening criminal prosecution. Fairness is implicated. Without the background, privilege and work-product, Defendant has an unfair advantage and Plaintiff prejudiced.”

Since Todd is suing the commissioners as individuals, he is using his own money to pay his attorney fees and is not using any tax dollars or the county’s insurance.

Despite being sued as individuals and not as the County Commission, the commissioner’s law firms (Husch Blackwell and Baird Lightner Millsap, P.C.), are being paid by the county or the county’s insurance company.

The case is ongoing.

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