Judge allows questioning of Page for lawsuit

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 07:13 PM

Lawyers for former Social Services Director Gerri Robinson have obtained a federal judge’s permission to question County Commissioner Michael Page about some of what he may know about the events surrounding her firing.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Auld on March 15 turned aside a request from county lawyers that he block questioning of Page on governmental-immunity grounds.

He specified that Robinson’s lawyers were not to engage in “a fishing expedition.”

The two sides later agreed to a nine-point order that focuses questions mostly on what Page knows about Robinson’s hiring, some of his dealings with former Commissioner Joe Bowser and some anonymous complaints commissioners received about the Department of Social Services.

Robinson sued to contest her 2011 firing by the DSS board, which at the time included among others Bowser and a new member, Gail Perry, the commissioners had appointed to replace a Robinson ally.

The board named Perry as Robinson’s interim replacement.

Robinson has alleged she was sacked after complaining to county administrators that Bowser was pressuring her to hire friends of his to fill jobs in the department.

County lawyers asked Auld to block questioning of Page on the grounds that local government officials are immune from having to testify about legislative and quasi-judicial matters.

But neither category was a neat fit for this situation because the commissioners don’t set policy for DSS, and don’t have the authority to conduct formal, fact-finding hearings about its operations like it can in land-use matters.

The two sides are scheduled to wrap up evidence gathering April 8, so the county’s lawyers can if they want file a pre-trial dismissal motion on May 1. U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty Jr. is presiding over the case.

As of last Thursday the depositions of Page and County Manager Mike Ruffin were still pending.