Thursday, June 7, 2012
This week's dead-tree issue includes an interesting story on a long-time employee of the Pima County Attorney's Office who filed a whistle-blower retaliation complaint against her employer. Lee Walter claims that she was disciplined after formally complaining and requesting an investigation that alleged unethical behaviors took place during an attorney interview process last year. Walter was involved and part of the attorney interviews.
To prepare for the retaliation case that went to the Arizona State Personnel Board — the first hearing was May 14 and the second hearing is tomorrow, Thursday, June 7 — Walter filed several public records requests. After five months and filing a complaint in Pima County Superior Court, Judge Ted Borak ruled in early May that Walter could receive documents she requested and that some were considered confidential — she could see those, but only after signing a confidentiality agreement with her employer and not making those public.
While Pima County Attorney staff said they were unable to comment, as well as Walter, we hadn't heard back from the county's private attorney by press time. Eventually we did hear back from Richard Rollman of Gabroy Rollman and Bossé, and talked with him today about the case.
At first Rollman said he was unsure what he could discuss since the issue is a personnel matter, but he did correct the assertion that Walter's record is unblemished, saying that while her personnel file may not have any written forms of discipline, that there may be other forms of discipline that were verbal rather then written.
Rollman said part of the issue with the case is that the interviews Walter participated in were for attorneys who were being hired as unclassified staff and not merit staff attorneys. Rollman said that Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall decided the attorney's interviewed were going to be hired as unclassified, and not merit employees, but she also decided they should be interviewed in the same manner as attorney's hired through the merit system.
The arguments to show retaliation took place that go before a hearings officer from the personnel board has to meet elements of the state statute. According to Rollman, those elements are pretty specific. Some according to the statute ask that concern in the complaint relate to matters that are of public concern. Next, did what take place violate law, show mismanagement, or show a gross waste of monies or abuse of authority.
On Walter's public records request, Rollman said all along the county offered her records, but she didn't want to sign a confidentiality agreement until May 9. Typically, he said, the personnel board hearings officer makes that determination if the records presented are confidential or not, rather then overload the Superior Court judge to review public records to determine what is confidential and what is not confidential.
When asked why the Pima County Attorney's office is interested in hiring unclassified attorney's rather than merit, he said that, without making a political argument, the reasons he's heard argued is that it allows a government entity to make sure that employee has the skills needed to do the job. Once a merit employee is hired it is difficult to dismiss them based on performance and other issues.
One source recently told the Weekly that many staff in the Pima County Attorney's Office hope some action takes place soon after tomorrow's hearing - made public at Walter's request as the plaintiff in the action. Morale, they shared, is at an all-time low.