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 27, 2018
It’s not over: Commission wants Todd to pay legal fees
CAMDEN COUNTY – The Attorney for the County Commissioners has filed a motion in Federal Court asking the judge to force Rowland Todd to pay the county’s legal fees to the tune of $144,989.91, plus the cost of filing the motion asking for the fees.
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 Presiding Commissioner Greg 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 earlier in June 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.
The motion, filed by at C. John Pleban, paints a picture of Todd as wasting taxpayer money on the suit, filing it to further his own political purposes and that he knew the lawsuit was frivolous.
On the last part, Pleban said in his motion that:
“This matter arises from a letter the Camden County Clerk sent to the Camden County Commissioners sent in February of 2017. This lawsuit was filed in March of 2017. The only purpose of this lawsuit was political. Plaintiff plans to run for re-election as County Clerk in 2018. The lawsuit was frivolous and unreasonable.”
(Editor’s note: the use of the word “Facts” in the quotes in this article were stated by the commission’s attorney in his filing).
“II. Facts: Plaintiff Knew His Lawsuit was Frivolous, Unreasonable and Groundless
“This lawsuit was not the first time the Plaintiff has caused problems within the workplace. Plaintiff’s actions caused Briana Christensen to submit a letter of resignation citing ‘hostile work environment created by Rowland Todd and his employees.’”
The seven page filing goes after Todd with a vengeance, accusing him of making false claims of suffering physically and emotionally and that none of that was true, according to Pleban.
“III. Facts: Plaintiff Had No Damages
“Plaintiff claimed that he went to see a doctor. According to his own testimony, Plaintiff complained about an upset stomach, diarrhea and his heart was pounding….The medical records note Plaintiff was seen for ‘stress at work.’…The record is void of any report that Plaintiff was having stomach issues…Rather, it shows normal bowel sounds…The record also show he was not having diarrhea…The records show that Plaintiff’s heart rate was normal.
“Plaintiff could not even remember his diagnosis from the ER visit or the type of medication he was prescribed…The only medical treatment claimed in this case was Plaintiff’s March 4, 2017 visit to Lake Regional…As of his last deposition, Plaintiff said he had no plans to see a doctor for any medical condition he claimed arose from the allegations asserted in this lawsuit…The records indicate the stress claimed during the ER visit would go away by itself…Interestingly, the ER visit was just three days before this lawsuit was filed.”
Pleban continues in his motion saying that Todd didn’t suffer financially and the incident had no impact on his life.
“There was nothing that Plaintiff was able to do before the claims in his lawsuit that he could not do after…No hobbies changed…Plaintiff’s relationship with his wife was stronger after events claimed to have occurred in the lawsuit…Plaintiff claimed the February 28, 2017 radio broadcast was the day his emotional pain and suffering started…Since then, he cannot recall any friends he lost…Plaintiff’s relationship with his family was the same…Plaintiff did not lose any job opportunities because of anything claimed in the lawsuit…Plaintiff could not name one person (who was not a friend) that asked him about the claims in the lawsuit…Of the friends who asked Plaintiff about this lawsuit, nothing changed with their relationship…Plaintiff has no sleeping issues.”
Todd was also accused of wasting the federal court’s time in his lawsuit.
“The lawsuit wasted this Court’s resources and taxpayer money in defending these claims, which were clearly frivolous, unreasonable, groundless, and without foundation.”
The suit was filed in Camden County Court but was moved to Federal Court after a motion was filed by Ryan Harding on April 6, 2017. Harding is an attorney from Husch Blackwell (HB) and (at the time) was representing the three commissioners, Hasty, Don Williams and Beverly Thomas.
In the motion to move the case to Federal Court, the petition stated in part that:
“In Plaintiff’s State Court Action, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Defendants for allegedly retaliatory actions and violations of his First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his First Amendment rights by conducting an investigation into another employee’s allegations of a hostile work environment caused by Plaintiff in retaliation for Plaintiff’s statements ‘expressing his opinion and concerns on matters of public concern.’ Plaintiff alleges that Defendants’ investigation into the former employee’s allegations of a hostile work environment was ‘bogus,’ ‘not legitimate,’ and pursued in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff’s Petition raises a substantial federal question and removal will not upset the congressional balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities… WHEREFORE, Defendants Greg Hasty, Don Williams, and Beverly Thomas respectfully remove this case from the Circuit Court of Camden County, Missouri, to this Court.”
The motion filed by Pleban on behalf of the commissioners asked that Todd pay all the costs.
“Defendants incurred $144,989.91 in defending these claims. This does not even include the money incurred to investigate the hostile work environment Plaintiff created. Total fees and expenses paid to Husch Blackwell were $93,772.73. The total fees and expenses paid to Pleban & Petruska were $51,217.18. In addition, Defendants will incur additional fees in relation to this motion. The fees were reasonable and necessary.”
The accusation in this filing that “This does not even include the money incurred to investigate the hostile work environment Plaintiff (Todd) created” contradicts the finding of Husch Blackwell in their investigation.
The county commission contracted with their law firm to do an independent study of the “hostile work environment” claim and other questions related to the situation. That report was released on March 17, 2017 and did not come to the conclusion that Todd created a “hostile work environment.”
In regards to the claim the Todd and Former Commissioner Cliff Luber created a “hostile work environment,” that report said:
“V. Legal Analysis and Conclusions
“As part of its investigation, HB reviewed and analyzed whether the conduct of former
Commissioner Luber, Rowland Todd and/or any members of Todd’s staff may have violated
federal or state law and/or given rise to a “hostile work environment.”
“A. Hostile Work Environment
“To establish an employment discrimination claim based on a hostile work environment under federal or state law, an employee must prove: (1) that he or she was a member of a protected group; (2) that he or she was subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) that the harassment was because of his or her membership in the protected group; and (4) that the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment. Malone v. Ameren UE, 646 F.3d 512, 517 (8th Cir. 2011).
“In her resignation letter, Christensen claimed she was subjected to a hostile work environment created by former Commissioner Cliff Luber, County Clerk Rowland Todd, and members of Todd’s staff. While Christensen may have suffered certain indignities and hostilities from Luber, Todd, and members of Todd’s staff in her role as HR manager, HB found no evidence of Christensen being harassed or discriminated against based on her membership in a protected group. When asked to explain what she meant by ‘hostile work environment’ in her resignation letter, Christensen herself denied being harassed or discriminated against by anyone based on her gender, race, or membership in any other protected group. Despite her claim that Luber, Todd, and members of Todd’s staff created a ‘hostile work environment,’ HB does not believe Christensen has a viable employment discrimination claim against the County.”
Despite being named in the report with participating in the alleged “hostile work environment” Luber was never brought in to the case by any of the attorneys for either party and was never interviewed for the HB report.
The end of the commissioner’s motion asked the judge to rule in their favor.
“For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s lawsuit was frivolous and groundless. Therefore, Defendants are entitled to recover $144,989.91 from Plaintiff in addition to the fees and expenses associated with this Motion.”
As of press time there had been no response from Todd’s attorney to the motion or the allegations contained in the motion.
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