Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve today chastised the City Attorney’s office for its handling in a recent lawsuit. In particular, she criticized the office for requesting the sexual history of the plaintiffs.
“For me, whenever I read about this kind of questioning … I was incredibly shocked,” she said. “(I was) disgusted, and, frankly, also being a woman, I was offended. I was embarrassed by it. (These women) put blood, sweat, and tears into this city.
“When I read something like that in the media, it is not okay. It is not acceptable. Period. I won’t tolerate it; the city won’t tolerate it.”
Schieve said she found out about the City Attorney’s requests to the plaintiffs through the news media.
“That is very disheartening,” she said.
Schieve asked for City Attorney Karl Hall to recuse himself and his office from defending against lawsuits filed by two former city employees who are alleging retaliation and sexual harassment by the city under former City Manager Andrew Clinger.
Hall, however, refused. He said he was zealously defending the city and taxpayers and explained that because the plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Mausert, already made a motion to recuse Hall, that it is going to court.
That motion will be considered “in the next month or so,” Hall said.
Councilman Paul McKenzie defended Hall’s office. He said he was frustrated with the line of questioning but that it is a normal part of such lawsuits.
“I sympathize with the women that were involved in this,” he said. “The City Attorney’s Office is trying to defend the city and the taxpayers of the city. This is litigation.”
But McKenzie acknowledged new procedures had to be developed in the wake of the complaints.
“I hope that city employees have faith that with the new procedures we’ve set forth with the new city manager, that they will be protected,” he added.
Councilwoman Naomi Duerr thanked the complainants, naming them by name and praising them for speaking out.
“I think we owe them a great debt of gratitude for revealing to us the makeup of our city, the fact that we did not have good procedures in place,” she said. “Because you came forward, we learned important things about our agency. They were difficult to learn about (and) difficult to remediate.”
She also criticized Hall:
“You said the (words) that you are zealously (defending the city), and that concerns me,” she said. “It seems to be to undermine credibility of these women. There seems to be another way. I don’t think it’s necessary to attack the women that have come forward with the best of intent. I cannot accept this approach even though it may be a winning strategy. I want the settlement, if we ever get there, to be about improving this place and restoring the honor of our employees.”
Hall Denies Shaming Plaintiffs
Assistant City Attorney William Cooper’s request to Mausert was for information about “all persons that you worked with whom you had a physical, romantic, and/or sexual relationship since January 1, 2000.”
But Hall denied that this was shaming the women.
“It wasn’t the City Attorney’s Office that brought this question to the public eye,” he said. “What I don’t like is the accusation that I would engage in a shaming activity and that is my strategy. That has never been the strategy.
“Everybody is entitled to due process. It has been assigned to other attorneys,” he explained. “I want to make sure we’re not running afoul of legal or ethical laws, and I believe we’ve done that.”
Mausert strongly disagreed. Another statement sent to the media this week reiterated the plaintiffs’ position and the request that Hall’s office remove itself from the case.
“Hall may as well be related to (author Franz) Kafka,” he wrote. “Yes, Mr. Hall takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously. So seriously he is willing to break the law to attempt to cover up an instance of egregious sexual harassment, lest that instance adversely impact his ability to defend a pending case. So seriously he is willing to breach Federal Rule of Evidence 412 in an attempt to intimidate a sexual harassment litigant.”
Not all councilmembers agreed with hiring an outside law firm to defend the city.
McKenzie said that both times the city attorney’s office hired outside council, the City Attorney’s office was still involved in outside counsel’s activities.
“There has been a certain amount of influence on this counsel by the city attorney’s office,” he said. “(It) needs to go to outside counsel in its entirety.”
The council voted to explore options for outside counsel at a future council meeting, and Hall said that he would be willing to reach out to local attorneys for somebody to come to review pleadings and provide updates to the City Council.
He offered to pay for that attorney out of his department’s budget.
Watch a video below of today’s hearing.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.