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Saturday, Mar 08 2014 09:00 PM

Out-of-area court to hear Probation harassment claims

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    By County of Kern

    David Kuge, Kern County chief probation officer.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County Superior Court -- the entire court -- has been recused from hearing the sexual harassment case against the Kern County Probation Department and Chief Probation Officer David Kuge.

Kuge's former secretary Lisa Phillips filed a lawsuit against him and the department Feb. 10.

This past Monday, Kern County Superior Court Judge Lorna Brumfield ruled that because the she and her fellow judges hired Kuge, the case should be referred to the Judicial Council of California.

The council is the policy-making body of the state court system and would reassign the case to another court.

Two other cases against Kuge and Kern County, filed by Probation employees who claim they were forced out of their jobs for trying to help Phillips deal with the harassment, are also ongoing. One of those other cases has also been forwarded to the Judicial Council for reassignment.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and attorneys' fees.

The Kern County Counsel's office and the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors had not been served with the lawsuit as of late Thursday.

Chief Deputy County Counsel Mark Nations said the county was aware of the suits from employees Sandra Stockton and Paul Paris but didn't know Phillips had filed her case.

Lawyers from the Clark Everson firm in Westlake Village, who represent Phillips, did not return calls seeking comment this past week.

Kuge declined to comment on the court cases Thursday.

Phillips' lawsuit claims that she was the secretary for previous Chief Probation Officer John Roberts and continued in the job when Kuge took the job in January 2010 following Roberts' retirement.

She said the harassment started with Kuge recommending that she wear short skirts or dresses to "show off her nice legs" and escalated over time.

Phillips claims Kuge began telling stories about his extra-martial affairs, started giving Phillips back rubs and went out of his way to make physical contact with her.

After her mother passed away in September 2010, the lawsuit states, Kuge offered her extra time off to deal with the loss, then ran his hand down her chest and touched the top of her right breast.

Phillips said she went to Stockton, a friend and fellow senior office services specialist, to help her work through the problems she was having with Kuge. Eventually Phillips also confided in Paris, an assistant division director at Camp Erwin Owen.

Ultimately Kuge asked Phillips to have an affair with him, the lawsuit alleges.

When she refused his advances, the lawsuit claims, another employee named Kelly McDaniel accused Phillips of threatening her and Phillips was walked off the job.

Phillips, Stockton and Paris were all placed on administrative leave for long periods of time -- more than two years in Phillips' and Stockton's cases. After finally being formally disciplined, the three retired early to escape the situation, according to the lawsuits.

Stockton's suit claims that after she helped Phillips, Kuge and his subordinates systematically created a hostile work environment for her, stripped her of support staff, increased her workload, read her emails and then placed her on administrative leave for two years before finally forcing her back to work in the same environment she left.

Retirement, she said, was the only way out of the situation.

While Kuge declined to comment on the lawsuits this past week, he aggressively defended himself to The Californian after Phillips filed a claim with the county outlining the charges. In legal actions against government agencies, plaintiffs first file claims and then later full-blown lawsuits.

Kuge called Phillips a liar when The Californian wrote about her claim.

"The whole thing is fabricated," he said at the time. "I've done nothing wrong. The county already investigated this and found it wasn't true. I have enough to prove this is all lies."

Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner said the claims against Kuge were investigated in 2011 and found to be "unsubstantiated."

Kuge said previously that Phillips never claimed sexual harassment until after she was being investigated for making threats against another co-worker, Kelly McDaniel.

In her lawsuit, Phillips said she delayed reporting the abuse because it was very clear that Kuge was close friends with Kern County Superior Court judges, supervisors and administrators and the top managers of the Probation Department.

There was no independent human relations department to complain to -- all sexual harassment complaints were to be brought to Kuge -- and both she and Stockton had seen other employees targeted and terminated because the rocked the boat.

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