Tucker's claim against Kanawha County settled

CHARLESTON – The case of a former employee in the Kanawha County prosecutor's office has been settled after she claimed the county commission denied her claim for unpaid back wages and annual leave.

Denise Tucker's attorney, Lonnie Simmons of DiTrapano, Barrett and DiPiero, said the case was settled last week for $25,000. Of that, $10,000 is for attorney fees. Simmons said a settlement order was to be filed in Kanawha Circuit Court later in the week.

Tucker is the wife of former Kanawha County Sheriff Dave Tucker. She was as an administrative assistant to former Kanawha County Prosecutor Mike Clifford. In February 2004, she resigned from her $52,000-a-year position after refusing to return from medical leave.

In her lawsuit, Tucker said she was owed three days of wages and 41.5 days of accumulated annual leave based on personnel policies in place at the time of her employment. She also sought interest and 30 days of pay in damages.

In November 2003, Tucker took a leave of absence for gallbladder surgery. Shortly thereafter, Clifford relieved Tucker of her job responsibilities, including overseeing the office payroll. That was after a review of the office's 2002 payroll records showed Tucker had taken more than 12 weeks of paid time off, including nine weeks of compensatory time. Tucker said she earned the leave time over the three years she worked there.

After her resignation, the county commission denied her request to be paid more than $7,000 in annual leave time from her employment in the prosecutor's office. The decision was made after Clifford told the commission that the office's time records from January 2003 through October 2003 were missing.

In June 2004, the state denied Tucker's claim for unemployment compensation. She filed the lawsuit against the commission in April 2005.

County Commission President Kent Carper said the county's attorney -- Johnnie Brown of Pullin, Fowler & Flanagan -- couldn't find reports to either support or disprove Tucker's claims. He also said it was one of those matters the county's insurance company – St. Paul Insurance – handled.

"It really hasn't been on my mind," said Carper, a partner at Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler. "It's one of those instances where the insurance company did the decision-making.

"You just have to accept the reality of things that aren't under your control and move forward. What can you do when you there and have very little control over what these people do?"

Carper said the episode did result in one change at the county courthouse.

"Back then, the constitutional officers kept their own payroll records," he said. "Now, we have them kept in a central repository."

When she left the job, Tucker claimed Clifford had created a "hostile and retaliatory environment" in the office, an allegation Clifford denied.

When asked about the settlement Wednesday, Clifford didn't have much to say.

"It should've been settled a long time ago," said Clifford, now an attorney in private practice.

Clifford's tenure as prosecutor was full of headlines, including that he sexually harassed employees, criticized judges and started retaliatory investigations against political enemies.

There was an effort to impeach him in 2003. After that, he tried to have the county commission pay $100,000 in legal fees for the impeachment process.

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