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Judge: Officials must turn over documents related to firing

August 20, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

An administrative judge Tuesday ordered state corrections officials to turn over documents related to the firing of a Hagerstown correctional officer after nude photographs displaying her tattoos were published.

A hearing scheduled for Tuesday to determine whether Marcie Betts should be reinstated to her job as a correctional officer was postponed until Sept. 22.

Betts was fired from the Roxbury Correctional Institution in January after prison officials discovered nude photos of Betts had been published in a tattoo magazine and appeared on the Internet. Reached by phone Tuesday, Betts said she still is unemployed.

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Lawrence G. Walters, Betts' attorney, said Maryland Administrative Law Judge D. Harrison Pratt ruled favorably on two defense motions in a closed hearing at the prison Tuesday.

Pratt ordered the Division of Correction to hand over several documents that Betts' lawyers had subpoenaed, Walters said. Pratt also requested a briefing on First Amendment issues regarding Betts' case, he said.

"That was probably the biggest hurdle to get past," said Walters, who said his client was wrongly fired for exercising her right to freedom of expression.

Walters said he had subpoenaed, among other things, investigative reports about Betts' firing, background information about any other adult-material actions taken against employees and the specific material the prison had obtained that contained Betts' nude pictures.

State corrections officials had not produced those by Monday's hearing, Walters said. The judge ordered prison officials to provide the material before the Sept. 22 hearing.

Walters said the request for the briefing on the First Amendment concerns was a boon because he believes Betts' photos are protected speech.

Betts' lawyers also filed a discrimination complaint in June with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, although no action has been taken on the complaint yet, Walters said.

Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees the Division of Correction, said he could not comment on Tuesday's rulings.

"Because it's an ongoing personnel matter that's at the appeals stage, we can't say a whole lot," Vernarelli said. "I think the department is anxious to resolve this matter."

Betts has said she and her husband took the pictures last year, after she had taken a state test for the prison job, but before she was hired.

About 80 photos were published on the Web site BurningAngel.com, which paid her $300, and one was published without her knowledge in Tabu Tattoo magazine, Betts said in March. She has a large tattoo of birds and flowers across her chest.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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