The focus of a federal lawsuit filed by Washington’s first woman firefighter who was later fired has turned into a bizarre tale involving missing evidence that has now resurfaced and sanctions against the city.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Hornak sanctioned the city for the conduct of the its solicitor, Lane Turturice, who destroyed an audiotape of a hearing involving former firefighter Victoria Bozik, and the city was ordered to pay her damages.
However, that audiotape has now be found.
During a hearing last week in Hornak’s courtroom the judge abruptly stopped the proceedings when information about the found audiotape came to light. Hornak has set another status conference for 1:30 p.m. May 1.
Bozic was hired in 2008 as a firefighter under a six-month probationary period. Under the city’s contract with the firefighters’ union, firefighters are required to reside within 7 1/2 miles of the Washington County Courthouse.
On Feb. 26, 2009, a meeting was held in Tuturice’s law office to discuss Bozic’s work performance, which had been deemed deficient by the fire chief. The meeting was recorded by an audiotape recorder that Turturice placed on a table.
At the time Bozic produced a false address where she claimed she was living. She was terminated soon after from her job after having admitted she had lied in her residency paperwork. The hearing officer found she had committed a criminal offense by providing false information to the state in order to obtain a driver’s license with the fraudulent address.
Bozic later filed for unemployment compensation and a filed charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
According to Hornak’s opinion, no inquiry was made into the existence of the tape recording until March 19, 2012, when Turturice stated during a deposition that he believed he taped over the tape, after having waited 30 days, the period of time in which Bozic could appeal her termination.
But in other affidavits and depositions, Tuturice’s recollection of when the tape was destroyed changed. Other times he said the tape could have been taped over, included sometime in June 2009, after December 2009, or between March and June 2010.
Noting that the tape is at the very heart of the dispute, Hornak wrote in his Dec. 5, 2012, opinion issuing sanctions that he did not believe Turturice destroyed the evidence with “malicious intent” but showed “reckless disregard for its importance to this litigation.”
He ordered the city to reimburse Bozic for court reporter costs and for up to 10 hours of her attorney’s time. When the case comes to trial, Hornak said the jury will be instructed that it can assume the information on the tape would be harmful to the city because Turturice destroyed it.
In another twist, newer court motions have been sealed to protect the name of another city firefighter that Bozic claims lived outside of the 7 1/2-mile radius but was never punished.
Mayor Brenda Davis said Wednesday that Turturice has kept her apprised of the federal court proceedings, including that he found the audiotape he thought he had taped over.
“It was in the city’s best interest for him to produce that tape,” Davis said. “As the solicitor for the city he was protecting his clients as he is hired to do.”
Bozic is represented by attorney Robert Bracken, who declined to comment.
Turturice declined further comment, referring questions to attorney Charles Saul, the city’s insurance lawyer. Saul had a death in the family and was unavailable for comment Friday.
Turturice is a candidate for Washington County judge in the May primary. City Council voted recently to request proposals for another solicitor in the event that Turturice is elected.