Published: Apr 25, 2012 05:51 PM
Modified: Apr 25, 2012 05:52 PM
DURHAM - Durham County attorneys have denied the allegations in a lawsuit filed by the ousted director of the Durham County Department of Social Services.
In responses filed Monday, they argue the court lacks jurisdiction and that elected and appointed county officials acting in their official capacities are immune to such claims.
Earlier this year, former DSS Director Gerri Robinson filed a lawsuit contending county and DSS officials violated her civil rights when they ignored her complaints about County Commissioner Joe Bowser, who she says in turn maliciously orchestrated her July firing.
The lawsuit contends Bowser overstepped his bounds as a commissioner and DSS board member and interfered in the agency’s day-to-day affairs. Robinson claims Bowser encouraged her to ignore court orders in certain child care cases and asked her to hire former City Manager Marcia Conner. The county attorney’s office provided the filings Tuesday, but efforts to reach County Attorney Lowell Siler for comment were unsuccessful.
In the lawsuit, Robinson names the Board of County Commissioners; the DSS board; its chairman, Stan Holt; current director Gail Perry; and Bowser as defendants. The complaint, however, is largely aimed at Bowser, the only person named as an individual as well as in his capacity as a county commissioner and a DSS board member. Other defendants are named in their official capacity.
The case has been moved from Durham County Superior Court to federal court.
County attorneys filed two responses: one on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners and Bowser in his official capacity and another on behalf of the DSS board, including Bowser, and interim director Perry.
Attorney Patricia Holland of the Cary law firm Jackson Lewis LLP is representing Bowser in his individual capacity. Holland didn’t return a phone message Tuesday, so it is unclear if she also will file a response on Bowser’s behalf. Holland will cost the county $250 an hour, with her associates and paralegals costing $200 and $75 an hour respectively.
“It is expressly denied, upon information and belief, that (Bowser) has engaged in any act and/or omission that was inconsistent with his obligations as a Durham County commissioner,” states the response on behalf of the elected officials.