by Randy Pierce
MADISON COUNTY — Two of the multiple lawsuits filed by Rob Dorman of Maryville and Doug Hulme of Edwardsville related to the termination of their employment in 2020 by a vote of the Madison County Board are being moved outside of the Illinois Third Judicial Circuit as a result of a decision handed down last week by the state’s supreme court.
The chief judge, Stephen A. Stobbs, of the local circuit, which covers Madison and Bond counties with its base of operations being in Edwardsville, according to the order from the state court, is to ask its administrative office to assign a judge from elsewhere to hear the pair of petitions mentioned in the request filed by Dorman and Hulme.
Formally referred to as a supervisory order, this directive pertains to one legal complaint from Dorman and Hulme against the county itself and another naming the municipalities of Collinsville, Edwardsville, Alton and Granite City for their roles in assigning investigators to a “task force” that provided findings allegedly factoring into the termination action.
The lesser in terms of volume of the two cases which are apparently now to be heard outside the third circuit finds the two former employees seeking damages of $100 or more each plus attorney’s fees and expenses along with a declaration that their being prohibited from accessing county property or communication with any county employee concerning their terminations be considered a violation of their constitutional rights.
That limitation was spelled out, the legal complaint states, in an April 2020 resolution passed by the county board in conjunction with the termination decision which was characterized by Dorman and Hulme therein as “punishment” despite their not being criminally charged or convicted of any such charges.
Legislation approved by the county board further accused Dorman of misconduct through misuse of his powers, resulting in a loss of confidence in his ability to do his job, acting in a manner “outside the bounds of ethical conduct and standards” that were expected of him and violating public trust.
According to the pending litigation, the parts of this scenario involving Collinsville, Alton, Granite City and Edwardsville consist of each one offering the services of one or two law enforcement employees from their ranks to participate on the Madison County Public Corruption Task Force that was assigned to look further into the charges against Dorman and Hulme that eventually led to their termination.
In this second of the two complaints, which had been amended since originally submitted to the third judicial circuit, from Dorman and Hulme, the aforementioned cities are cited in 24 instances, each municipality named individually, for alleged offenses such as: tortious interference in the two men’s employment contracts with the county, utilizing information obtained from an act of unlawful eavesdropping, participating in activity which led to prohibited retaliation against the former employees as “whistleblowers,” defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress plus willful and wanton actions which warrant punitive damages to be awarded.
In every one of those charges against those four cities, Dorman and Hulme are asking for damages to be awarded in an amount of at least $50,000 for a total of $600,000 each.
For this particular legal complaint, exceeding 60 printed pages due to the repetitive mention of the allegations against each city, originally filed in April of 2021 then dismissed by a third judicial circuit court judge about 11 months later, it had been amended and resubmitted in September 2022.
The plaintiffs contend that, when they were hired to work as information technology director (Dorman) and county administrator (Hulme), a policy was in place governing the communications of employees which offered “no presumption of privacy.”
Spelled out in conjunction with that policy is, according to Dorman and Hulme’s lawsuit, the county’s right to monitor employee communications.
Circa 2017, feeling they were functioning within those guidelines and discovering what they believed were acts by certain employees of prohibited political activity on county property, using county communication equipment for political purposes and doing so while working on county time are the actions, Dorman and Hulme feel were used against them in retaliation that led to their terminations.
To investigate the allegations of possible official misconduct and other prohibited actions, the aforementioned task force was formed in early 2018 under then-Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and his assistant, Crystal Uhe, with the group present to discuss it including command-level representatives from the four cities, the county sheriff’s department and the Illinois State Police, according to the legal complaint.
Dozens of county officials and employees were interviewed as part of the task force investigation, which, the complaint states, also consisted of searching the hard drives of Hulme, Dorman and another county employee.
That this entire situation which eventually led to the terminations was politically charged was an additional point the plaintiffs attempted to address in their complaint including an allegation of how Gibbons, a Democrat, had a conflict of interest in running the prosecution process against Dorman and Hulme who had been appointed by Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, a Republican.
Additional focus of the complaint concerns a situation during which the task force allegedly had the county treasurer, Chris Slusser, equipped with an electronic device which recorded a conversation he had with either Hulme or Dorman that was considered a factor in the decisions to terminate them because it was unlawfully shared with county board members.
In conjunction with where things stood at one particular juncture, a judge from Jefferson County was appointed then Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul got involved to eventually determine that, the complaint states, there was “insufficient evidence to support charges against any of the potential targets (Dorman or Hulme).”
The resultant response from Dorman and Hulme was to refer to what had been going on as a “witch hunt” resulting from their doing what “they had the obligation and right to do under the authority of the Madison County Electronic Communications Policies and Procedures.”
Their complaint says that Gibbons convened the task force while knowing its formation “was based upon a false premise that there is no right of persons to monitor electronic communications in Madison County.”
“There literally was no credible evidence that they (Dorman/Hulme) had violated any laws,” the complaint against the cities said, “or Madison County policies and further this was known by all members herein described in the so-called task force.”