(UNDATED) - A U.S. District Court judge has ruled in favor of Circuit Judge Larry Medlock in a case brought against him by two former circuit court employees whom he had dismissed shortly after taking office.
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell of the Leader Democrat reports that Dora Ray and Lori Gilstrap filed suit against Medlock after he fired them in early January 2011. The women said they believed they had been terminated at least in part due to their political affiliation.
Ray and Gilstrap were hired in the 1980s by Judge Robert Bennett, a Democrat. In the 2010 election, Medlock, a Republican, challenged Bennett. Both Ray and Gilstrap actively campaigned for Bennett.
However, so did two other court reporters, Nancy Roberts and Rita Martin. Medlock did not terminate those employees, as was noted by the court in comments on the case.
Medlock testified that he terminated Ray and Gilstrap in order to fulfill a campaign promise to "improve the staff quality" within circuit court and not because of their political affiliation or campaign activities.
Ray and Gilstrap maintained their First Amendment rights had been violated. The First Amendement "forbids government officials to discharge or threaten to discharge public employees solely for not being supporters of the political party in power ..."
The burden of proof was on the plaintiffs. The court found the women's "subjective beliefs regarding the motivation behind Judge Medlock's decision to terminate their employment is nothing more than speculation" and therefore had no bearing.
In November, Judge Richard L. Young of the U.S. District Court, Southern District, entered a split decision on Medlock's motion to dismiss the case. Young granted Medlock's motion with respect to claims against him in his official capacity finding that Medlock couldn't be sued for actions in his official capacity. However, Young said the women could pursue their claims against Medlock in his individual capacity.
In his ruling entered earlier this month, Young said that Ray and Gilstrap failed to provide evidence that they were terminated due to political affiliation. "Because Plaintiffs did not suffer a constitutional deprivation, Judge Medlock cannot be held individually liable ..." he wrote.
Ray and Gilstrap have 30 days to appeal the decision if they choose.
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