A federal judge has set rules for Schuylkill County Commissioner’s defense attorney George F. Halcovage Jr. to obtain the contents of electronic devices belonging to Clerk of Courts Maria T. Casey as a lawsuit for sexual harassment filed against Halcovage progresses.
United States Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson on May 12 filed the rules, which he wrote to balance the need for information with public privacy.
The rules limit the time and scope of data on hard drives and the office cell phone.
First, the digital information to be searched will include only that stored on devices owned by the county clerk of the courts after the date Casey took office in 2016.
Second, only digital information, as well as metadata, referring to any of the four plaintiffs or to George Halcovage will be produced.
Third, in order to ensure that the search is conducted in a neutral and detached manner, the parties may choose to have the search carried out either by the county IT department or by an IT consultant agreed to by the parties and the intervenor.
Fourth, in order to protect and preserve any claims of privilege that may exist, once potentially relevant documents are identified through this search, Casey and his attorney may review potentially sensitive and relevant information prior to production and, to the extent where she concludes that the relevant information contains privileged information, Casey can redact it and provide all parties with a privilege log.
Finally, to allow for an unbiased assessment of any lien claim if, after review of the lien log, there is a dispute over the redacted information, the parties may submit the redacted information to the court for private review.
Casey, who is not involved in the March 16, 2021 lawsuit filed by four women who work at the courthouse, said she was targeted because she was a strong supporter of women.
She asked the court to intervene, and on April 18, Carlson agreed. He asked the two parties to agree on research protocols, but they could not agree, but submitted competing proposals to the court.
Carlson noted that employees are not entitled to any privacy rights regarding county-owned electronic devices. However, he had to balance this policy with the rights of people whose cases are handled by the office of the clerk of the courts.
An investigation by the county’s human resources department in June 2020 determined that Halcovage violated policies on sexual harassment, conduct and disciplinary action, and physical and verbal abuse.
The four women, all courthouse employees, filed the federal complaint on March 16, 2021, alleging sexual harassment and sexual assault from 2012, the year Halcovage was first elected.
Although all four are only identified as Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2, Jane Doe 3, and Jane Doe 4, two of them, through a series of public comments made by citizens and Commissioner Gary J. Hess , were revealed as Director of Tax Claims. Angela Toomey and assistant director Denise McGinley-Gerchak.
Halcovage, along with County Administrator Gary R. Bender and Assistant County Attorney Glenn T. Roth Jr., Acting Director of Human Resources Doreen Kutzler and current Director of Human Resources Heidi Zula were named as defendants. .
Halcovage denied the charges.
The lawsuit was amended on October 29, 2021, alleging that the defendants brought employment actions against some of the women that constituted unlawful discrimination, created a hostile work environment, and constituted acts of intimidation and retaliation for filed the complaint.
In September, Toomey and Gerchak were charged by commissioners with improperly searching the county’s sophisticated database, LexisNexis. These accusations gave rise to an investigation lasting several months, the results of which have not been made public.
It also led to the commissioners spending $277,894 on March 9 to send notifications to the 9,146 people whose sensitive information they believe might have been compromised during the search, plus a year of free credit monitoring for each.
Toomey and Gerchak were suspended without pay in September but have since been granted unemployment benefits.
A motion, also on March 9, to fire the women failed when Commissioner Gary J. Hess opposed the decision, Halcovage abstained, and Commissioners Chairman Barron L. Hetherington voted in favour.
Last week, Judge Carlson granted a request from the US Department of Justice to join the sexual harassment lawsuit against Halcovage.
In January, State Senator David G. Argall launched an action to impeach Halcovage. This process moves through the state legislature.