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Former county juvenile officer sues over job loss

Former county juvenile officer sues over job loss

December 13th, 2017 by Bob Watson in News

Prenger Family Center is located at 400 Stadium Blvd.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

Kurt Valentine said he was Cole County's chief juvenile officer from February 2015 until July 27 of this year.

However, he said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, he was then placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

The 11-page lawsuit, filed on Valentine's behalf by Jefferson City lawyer David Moen, names the Cole County Commission and Juvenile Court Administrator Michael Couty as the defendants.

At several points in the suit, Valentine said he was forced out because he had told Couty "several (unnamed) Deputy Juvenile Officers employed by the county were engaging in unlawful drug use at work and outside of work," and Couty allegedly did nothing to investigate that information.

"(Valentine) had reasonable suspicion and probable cause to believe that persons employed as Deputy Juvenile Officers were engaging in criminal behavior," Moen's lawsuit argued, adding Couty "was the proper authority because he was in a position to remedy the unlawful activity."

The lawsuit also claims Couty told Valentine and Moen that Valentine would be fired regardless of the conclusions of the investigation.

Couty, according to the lawsuit, told Valentine if he resigned instead of being fired, Couty would allow him to use his annual leave time to continue employment through Sept. 1 to allow him to keep health insurance.

Jill LaHue, the county commission's attorney, said as of Tuesday afternoon, the commission had not yet been served a copy of the lawsuit.

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However, she said: "(Valentine) had sent us this petition a few weeks ago, trying to get a settlement out of us; we looked into the allegations at that time and determined that most of them are either false, out of context or misleading."

Valentine argued the three-member commission "engaged in persistent and continuing misconduct by failing to supervise and control county employees such as Couty, and instead acted in all ways as though the Circuit Court of Cole County was responsible for supervising, correcting and protecting county employees (who) work in the Juvenile Division."

However, LaHue said Tuesday, that's what state law requires, designating the circuit court as the appointing authority over the juvenile court.

Valentine argued Couty and the commission deprived him of rights under federal laws and the U.S. Constitution.

The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jon Beetem.