Below is an article that appeared in today’s Silver Pinyon Journal. I am reprinting it in it’s entirety so that it will not be lost when the Silver Pinyon front page story changes.
Sweeping lawsuit launched against DA, hospital administrator, and school district
Woman alleges firing result of retribution in violation of her civil rights
Silver Pinyon Journal
16 March 2009
WINNEMUCCA — A sweeping lawsuit was filed Friday in federal court by a local woman who alleges her firing from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office occurred because of political retribution and a subsequent termination of her internship from the Humboldt County School District was further retaliation.
In the lawsuit, Michelle Robinson alleges her First Amendment rights to free speech/freedom of religion, and her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process where her property and liberty are concerned were also violated.
First Amendment Right to Free Speech: Robinson formerly worked at the DA’s Office as a Victim’s Advocate for women who had been sexually assaulted or who were the victims of domestic violence. During the course of her employment, Robinson became concerned about the care given to women who were the victims of sexual assault because procedure required the victims to travel to Reno, an approximate distance of 160 miles, to have evidence collected before care could be given for other injuries. Robinson attempted to have the procedure changed so victims could be cared for at Humboldt General Hospital with specially trained staff utilizing what is commonly called “rape kits” to collect evidence and care for the victim. Robinson went further and began the process of applying for a grant from the Justice Department for funds to implement a program that would allow the rape kits to be utilized at the local hospital.
On or about Feb. 22, 2008, according to the lawsuit, Humboldt County General Hospital Administrator James Parrish and Robinson spoke by phone, at which time he told her he was opposed to having procedure changed to allow the rape kits to be performed at the hospital. Later the same evening, according to the suit, while Robinson was at home, she e-mailed the six citizen advocates who belonged to SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and the nurse who was at that time in training to be a provider to the victims of sexual assault. The e-mail outlined Parrish’s opposition to the rape kits. As a result of the e-mails, there was public pressure on Parrish to allow a change in procedure so rape kits could be performed at the local hospital.
On Feb. 29, 2008 there was a meeting at Humboldt General Hospital of interested parties who were supposed to have discussed the issue of rape kits. According to the suit, Parrish was “very upset” at the public pressure that occurred as a result of Robinson’s e-mail and he said he “wanted the person who sent the e-mail taken care of so this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.” Following the meeting, Humboldt County DA Russell Smith confirmed with a member of SART that it was Robinson who sent the e-mails.On March 7, Robinson was called to the DA’s Office and given the option by the DA of being fired or resigning. Allegedly, she asked if her situation was due to the e-mails. According to her, Smith nodded “yes”.
The suit alleges her firing was “part of the conspiracy to deprive Robinson of her rights under the First Amendment and/or to retaliate against her for the exercise of her First Amendment rights” to free speech.
First Amendment – Freedom of Religion, Fourteenth Amendment to Due Process: Having lost her job at the DA’s Office, Robinson decided to pursue the education she needed to become a school counselor, which requires 280 hours of practicum experience. Robinson met with Humboldt County School District personnel about serving within the district. They agreed to the arrangement and Robinson was assigned to Lowry High School as an unpaid counselor-in-training starting in August 2008.
According to the suit, within ten days DA Smith phoned the school. As a result of the call, Robinson was asked to leave the school grounds immediately and her internship was discontinued. Robinson left the grounds in tears. The next day school official met with Smith. Within a week school officials held another meeting with Robinson, and it was at that meeting she learned for the first time what Smith allegedly told school officials.
Robinson said school psychologist Kraig Lords said to her “…the news about you was not good.” Robinson also reported Lords as saying, “Russell Smith went on for at least one hour, hardly taking a breath, saying some really disturbing things about you.” Smith allegedly said Robinson should not work around young people because she had gotten some under-aged kids drunk years before – an allegation Robinson denied. He also said her personal life made her unsuitable to work around young people because she had inappropriate personal relationships with law enforcement – also an allegation she denied. In addition, he claimed she was a Wiccan and associated with Wiccans. In fact, Robinson is not a Wiccan.
Maybe Smith misunderstood her. Maybe Robinson said she was a Winnemuccan.
Allegedly, Lords described Smith’s comments as “slanderous”and advised her to seek legal counsel.The suit argues Robinson has a First Amendment right to pursue the religion of her choice without retribution – whatever that may be. In addition, the suit notes Robinson has a Fourteenth Amendment right to due process before being deprived of property or liberty. The suit notes the Humboldt County School District terminated Robinson’s pursuit of the practicum she needed for her employment, a property interest, without allowing her to counter the allegations made against her. The suit notes, “That in Nevada the interest in practicing one’s profession and/or pursuing one’s profession is a valuable property right (and a liberty interest)… that cannot be abridged or revoked by state employees” without due process. The suit notes Humboldt County School District employees failed to put any person or witness under oath – or even to call any – failed to allow Robinson to confront the allegations against her, failed to require the allegations against her to be proven by preponderance of evidence, failed to measure the credibility or take bias, motive, or hostility into account, failed to take into account that Smith was reporting hearsay not based on personal knowledge, etc.
The suit claims there was a conspiracy to deprive Robinson of her Constitutionally protected rights by Smith and Parrish, and the Humboldt County School District entered into that conspiracy when they terminated Robinson without allowing her to defend herself from the allegations put forth by Smith.
I dunno…it sounds like there is a whole lot more going on here.
I’ve got a copy of the seventy-page lawsuit and will be perusing it further. From what I’ve read so far, this appears to be a good ol’ boys circle-the-wagons sort of thing. According to the lawsuit (p. 6-7) Smith was publicly advocating for the rape kits, yet when Robinson moved ahead on it over Parrish’s objections, Parrish took offense and got Smith to fire her. Parrish and Smith were tight politically and often worked together to further each other’s agendas, with Smith going so far as to take out an ad in the last election against hospital board trustee candidates whom Parrish opposed. Smith’s reaction to Robinson’s unpaid work at the high school seems completely overblown and one really has to wonder what these two men’s real gripe is. Another woman who didn’t ask permission, perhaps?
More to come.