When I learned about this lawsuit out of Montana (via Morning Docket), I thought it might be from The Onion or an old episode of Ally McBeal. Reports the Billings Gazette: “A lawsuit has been filed against Fergus County District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips by a female law clerk who alleges that the judge slapped her in the buttocks with a legal file.”
If the clerk’s allegation is true, was Judge Phillips’s action inappropriate? Certainly. Was it rude? Most definitely. But should it spawn a civil lawsuit, as well as possible criminal charges? Absolutely not.
And wait until you hear what the clerk is claiming in damages….
Britt T. Long filed the civil lawsuit in Fergus County District Court on Sept. 12, alleging that Phillips, her boss, caused her “extreme personal stress and embarrassment, anxiety, stress, interrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, and other symptoms associated with extreme anxiety.”
Britt Long, you live in Montana. Aren’t you supposed to be made of sterner stuff?
Long is a lawyer who has worked in the judge’s Lewistown office inside the county courthouse as a law clerk since 2008. The lawsuit alleges a civil claim of assault and seeks an unspecified amount for lost wages, medical bills and punitive damages.
Lost wages and medical bills? I seriously hope these are psychiatrist bills; otherwise we’re dealing with an eggshell butt. I previously wondered whether women in the law need thicker skins, but I didn’t mean it quite so literally.
Notwithstanding the importance and delicacy of Britt Long’s buttocks, the lawsuit has other allegations as well:
The lawsuit also asserts that Phillips should resign from his elected position “to remedy and prevent further instances of this and other violations of his obligations as a judge damaging to the public trust.” …
The last paragraph of the three-page complaint states that Phillips “has also inappropriately revealed personal sexual interests from the bench, experienced failures in short-term memory, failure to observe legal procedure and civil procedural rule requirements, repeated and lengthy absences and unavailability for judicial duties over a period of years in a manner detrimental to public safety and public trust.”
These claims seem a bit more serious than a playful whack on the butt with a manila folder. Nice to see that they showed up in the final paragraph of the lawsuit.
What does Judge Phillips have to say about the matter?
Phillips said Thursday that he could not comment in detail because of the pending litigation. The judge, who was elected to the post in 2000, did say that he was “disappointed and discouraged” by the allegations.
Phillips suggested that citizens “look at my record instead of this,” saying he had “worked hard for almost 11 years” to be a fair judge.
And some litigants do find him to be a fair judge. See, e.g., this account of a high-profile criminal case handled by Judge Phillips, which he presided over “in a balanced manner.” The prosecution praised him as “very balanced in this matter,” while the defendant thanked Judge Phillips for being “fair, patient, and open minded to everything both parties presented.”
Readers, what do you make of this situation? Is this a case of a law clerk being victimized and abused by her powerful judicial boss? Or does Britt Long just have her head up her ass?
Law clerk files lawsuit against Fergus County judge alleging assault [Billings Gazette]
Law Clerk Sues Judge for Assault, Says He Slapped Her with a Legal File [ABA Journal]
Observations, reactions from the Beach hearing [The Lowdown]