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January 26, 2013

Judge Buckner: ‘I surmise that they are gone’

Murray County Chief Magistrate Gale Buckner said none of her office staff personally notified her on Friday they were quitting, but she assumes that’s what happened given that all their personal belongings are gone.

Employees Virginia Rector, Sonia Petty and Yesenia Galvin had notified County Attorney Greg Kinnamon through their attorneys days earlier they planned to quit on Friday unless officials took “corrective action” against their boss, who they said was inequitably enforcing a new dress code and job responsibilities and treating them in a way that made them feel “bullied.”

Buckner said she was on the phone when the women left at the end of the business day Friday, but none of the staff spoke to her earlier in the day about their plans. They did take their personal belongings with them, she said, and they indicated on their time sheets they would not be working next week.

“All I can tell you is that I surmise that they are gone,” she said. “There was no resignation tendered by any of them to me or to our county attorney. No one still has said to me that they are not returning next week.”

McCracken Poston, one of the attorneys for the women, said his clients seem “relieved” not to be working there anymore.

“They are all individually relieved to be away from the pressure and somewhat bizarre actions of the new judge,” he said.

Poston and attorney Stuart F. James said earlier Buckner had told one woman her blouse was too low-cut but said nothing to another employee wearing a similar neckline, appointed one employee to keep a citizen from “cornering” her, was assigning menial work, and was lowering morale by telling at least one employee she would be getting a pay raise while others would not.

Buckner declined to discuss individual staff members’ situations but did say she is having everyone, including herself, learn to do all the duties in the office so workers can cover for one another as people are absent. She said she also put a place a dress code modeled after policies other offices like hers have and is in the process of writing job descriptions.

No job openings had been posted on the county’s website as of 5:30 p.m. Friday. Buckner said she couldn’t immediately discuss details of how the office will be staffed next week, but she said the services it provides will go on.

“The business of this court for the people of Murray County will continue without a glitch,” she said.

The women recently received a right to sue notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after they complained of having to work in a “hostile, sexually-charged work environment” under their former boss, then-chief magistrate Bryant Cochran. Cochran has denied sexual allegations several different women have levied against him, but he resigned amid an ethics investigation and admitted he pre-signed — but never issued — a handful of warrants.

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