Wednesday, August 5, 1998 Not yet: DHS still hasn't learned
Last modified at 12:22 p.m. on Wednesday, August 5, 1998
A Department of Human Services official has answered a question posed a couple of weeks ago in this column. DHS -- or, to be fair, Diane O'Connell -- apparently didn't learn anything from the weekend jailing of a department employee.
Ms. O'Connell, director of the DHS Children and Family Services Division, sent three e-mail messages to other DHS employees concerning "certain judges who humiliate us" and seeking tales of bad experiences that other employees have had with judges.
The e-mails were in response to Judge Karen Baker sentencing DHS worker Sandi Doherty to two days in jail for not turning on the utilities of a 16-year-old girl and her mother in October and November 1996.
DHS said such actions were outside of department policy and would use much of the agency's budget for a single case. Judge Baker, in a ruling with which the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed, said it did not violate policy and a judge's order supersedes policy anyway.
Ms. Doherty went to jail, Gov. Mike Huckabee was waiting for her when she was released, and Ms. O'Connell started firing off e-mail messages.
The DHS official also brought the governor back into the picture by alluding that Gov. Huckabee is on the side of DHS and is working "to take action regarding this situation and our relationships with juvenile judges."
It's interesting that the messages (and recent comments by Gov. Huckabee) have criticized Judge Baker for acting as the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government, while the same message implies an effort to get directly involved in the judicial branch.
Granted, Richard Weiss, acting DHS director, appeared to be livid about the e-mails, saying he was "very upset," and the messages were "very inappropriate." However, it will be interesting to see if anything further becomes of this. Will Ms. O'Connell be reprimanded for the messages? Will Gov. Huckabee confirm what was written? If he denies it, is he also turning his back on a state employee in a department which he was strongly defending only a few days ago?
It would be shocking to see any formal investigation of the allegations that are made in the writings. Judges will probably band together and denounce the treatment of one of their peers, but that will be all of it.
Definitive punishment of the letter writer is unlikely, either by DHS or the governor. In other words, DHS hasn't learned anything yet.
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