Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oregon Justice of the Peace Opens Mouth, Is Gone!

This story is an eye-opener and I owe a big tip of the cyber-hat to KC Crime Blog for the account. 

A self-described "300lb. asexual virgin," and long-time Justice of the Peace,  lost her job after an investigation revealed a pattern of pathologically inappropriate sexual banter with court personnel, clerks, adult and minor defendants in her court.  This story is breath taking in terms of the sheer scale of what was tolerated for so long by this Oregon community.   Here's the account from Karen McGowan at the Eugene, Oregon's Register-Guard:

"A longtime justice of the peace at Central Lane Justice Court has resigned after a county investigation found that she made repeated offensive comments to her staff — and sometimes to parties appearing in her courtroom.  County officials and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski confirmed receipt Monday of Cynthia Sinclair’s resignation letter.  It followed a three-month probe in which an outside investigator concluded that the 58-year-old judge made unwelcome sexual comments to court clerks 'with such frequency that it permeated their work environment and … unreasonably interfered with their ability to do their jobs.'

The investigation by human resources consultant Bev Russell found that one longtime clerk resigned years ago because of Sinclair’s behavior, while another complainant said she would also quit if Sinclair remained because her repeated sexual references made work unbearable. Sinclair was elected three times and served 13 years in the post. She is a former court clerk who has no law degree, which is not required for a justice of the peace position.

Sinclair was known for her colorful pre-court statements dramatizing the dangers of the minor offenses she handled, from speeding to truancy. But five female clerks who worked under her in the justice court banded together in December to complain to county officials about some of those comments — as well as about her sexually fixated statements to them. Among Sinclair’s in­-appropriate courtroom remarks, her accusers said, was asking a mother of five children, one of whom was in court for delinquent behavior, 'Don’t you wish you could shoot all teenagers?'

The judge also allegedly warned truant girls that they would 'end up dancing naked on tables' at a Springfield strip club. She also reportedly told young defendants: 'You will learn about sex when you are in jail showering with other people.'

One clerk allegedly balked at typing Sinclair’s letter warning a truant child that 'any man with a penis will do a sixteen-year-old girl.' The judge reportedly disagreed with her objections and sent the letter unchanged. Sinclair told Russell she 'probably' wrote letters to parents of truant children warning them that adults would take advantage of their offspring.  Sinclair told Russell she warned juveniles that 'bad things can happen in jail' because she wanted them to understand it is not a good place for kids.

The clerks said Sinclair also privately made disparaging remarks about defendants of certain races and generations. They said Sinclair made disparaging remarks about 'Arabic' men, about a 'new class of blighters with no moral code' and Latinos.  They also said she gave Latino children piñatas, while other children were given toys unrelated to their ethnicities. Sinclair denied such bias, adding that, 'if she had to choose' a favorite clientele, it would be Latinos.

Current and former Central Lane clerks told Russell that Sinclair made comments to them about dancing naked on their tables; about vibrator use and masturbation; and about their partners’ sexual functioning.  She reportedly asked them about their degree of sexual experience in front of co-workers. And she allegedly drew a 'very gross' picture of one employee being lifted by a crane on top of another employee.

Also included among the 284 findings:

The judge gave court employees a written quiz about what they would do if there were a fire in the office. One of the optional answers the judge listed was 'masturbate.'

One witness said the judge tells employees at least once a month to take off their clothes and dance naked on the tables, and did so as recently as this past February.  When one employee received a gift basket at work, the judge said to her: 'Who did your husband have sex with this time? Is he having more affairs with other women?'  One witness said she heard the judge say repeatedly that a sheriff’s deputy would have an orgasm when he learned how many of his cases were on the docket. Witnesses said, and the judge agreed, that she told employees their clothes were sexy.

One clerk complained that Sinclair signed the names of two troublesome defendants in the clerk’s wedding guest book. And she reportedly gave an employee with sleep apnea a gift catalog with the employee’s name written above two alarm clocks.  Sinclair told Russell that such actions were intended as jokes for co-workers she considered friends rather than employees. The investigator concluded that Sinclair made no effort to hide her comments, sometimes making the remarks in a public area of the court clerk’s work area.

In a 10-page letter responding to the complaints, Sinclair denied that her conduct was sexual harassment, saying she had never “hit on” an employee, posted “nudie” photos or made “naughty telephone calls.” She described herself as a 300-pound, hetero­sexual, 'essentially asexual virgin.'  She also wrote that the U.S. Constitution protects free speech and trumps 'sexual harassment claims based solely on verbal insult, pictorial or literary matter.There has to be some tangible element of threat to overcome the free speech component,' said Sinclair, who twice completed county sexual harassment training that makes clear that no such element is required. Sinclair also wrote: 'While there is a requirement that a RAPE victim must make clear to her attacker that the physical assault is unwanted,'  employers do not have to tell a supervisor that a joke is unwanted.

Several court workers told Russell they did tell the judge her remarks were offensive and inappropriate. Sinclair often responded, they said, by 'pouting' and shutting workers out of her office for days at a time.

One clerk declined to join in the complaint, telling Russell that the others could have done more to let the judge know her behavior was unwanted.  One of the complainants called Sinclair a personal friend, but said she had been unable to persuade the judge to stop her explicit comments. That clerk told Russell she believed Sinclair may suffer from some sort of mental illness that compelled her behavior. Sinclair is accused of allegedly retaliating against the court workers who filed the complaint. She reportedly changed the job evaluation of one, and told others that their complaints could prompt the county to close the Central Lane Court.

She allegedly put up a sign in her office, saying: 'NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER JOKE WITH THEM AGAIN. THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS.' And she suggested in her rebuttal, 'If I was trying to push someone over the edge, trying to make them suicidal, I could not do a better job than what my ‘friends’ have done to me here.'  The clerks charged that Sinclair locked her office door and slept from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. most days, not responding to their knocks or phone calls when they had questions about court matters. The judge said the county bought her a couch for her to nap on. Sinclair resigned effective July 1, meaning Lane County taxpayers will continue to pay her $50,939 annual salary until then. Because she is an elected official, the county has no authority to halt her pay before that date, Lane County Counsel Liane Richardson said Monday. Area voters could theoretically force a recall election to remove her from office, but it’s unlikely that could be accomplished before July 1, Richardson said."
Years ago there was a court that I practiced in regularly that had a Judge who was on par with this character. 

In those days, Judges would smoke in their courtrooms and this guy was a chain smoker.   Even after the rules changed he continued flouting the no-smoking bans.  He was a totally creepy guy, and at the same time there was something pathetic and slightly endearing about him.  Maybe it was just because he was such a loser, and you knew he knew it.  Then again that was a different era.  It is a good thing that things have changed but a lot of colorful people have been left behind. 

I'm sure it wasn't easy being around Ms. Sinclair.  She certainly had no appropriate role in lecturing youngsters.

1 comment:

  1. there was a workers comp "judge" who used 2 sit in a darkened room and x-exam claimants in the most embarassing way, he'd get real personal and sometimes insulting and God-forbid you'd say anything back to him. any ideas onwhat to do about judges likte this?