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Hearing on dismissal of corrections officer set

April 29, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

A hearing to determine whether a state correctional officer who was fired in January 2003 after photos of her were published on the Internet will be reinstated has been set for next month.

Lawrence G. Walters, the Altamonte Springs, Fla., attorney representing Marcie Betts in her case against the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and Mark A. Vernarelli, a spokesman for the department, said a hearing is scheduled for May 27 in Washington County Circuit Court.

Walters said the date was set after the department appealed a ruling in Betts' favor last year, and that the appeal was not a surprise.

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"They weren't going to allow the hearing officer's decision reinstating her to stand," Walters said.

Walters called the May 27 hearing the "legal tiebreaker."

Betts was fired from her job at Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown in January 2003 after prison officials discovered nude photos of her had been published on the Internet and in a tattoo magazine. Court records say department officials deemed that because of the pictures, Betts' capabilities to perform her duties and her safety may have been compromised.

In November 2003, Administrative Law Judge D. Harrison Pratt ruled that Betts should be reinstated to her previous position with restitution of full pay and benefits, records say.

In the department's official appeal, filed on March 12, Assistant Attorney General Scott S. Oakley said Pratt's decision violates the right of the department to terminate a probationary employee and exceeds statutory authority or jurisdiction, records say.

Walter, said in a response filed April 21 that Betts' actions were clearly protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, "no matter how controversial or offensive the department may find such speech," records say.

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