- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A Montana judge agreed to settle a sexual harassment complaint filed by his former court reporter and plans to resign on Jan. 1.

The state, however, is asking another judge to declare it’s not obligated to pay any damages agreed to by District Judge George “Jerry” Huss.

Huss and the woman, with the help of a mediator, entered into a stipulation that says she is entitled to more than $744,000 and the state’s Office of the Court Administrator is responsible for payment, The Billings Gazette (https://bit.ly/1DS8sBA) reported Monday.

The state is seeking an order that the Office of the Court Administrator not be held liable for negotiations it did not know about and for actions that did not arise out of the scope or course of the judge’s employment.

The woman filed a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau in February 2014 alleging Huss began making romantic advances toward her in July 2013, six months after he took office.

She said he bought her an iPad, a remote car starter and gave her gift cards totaling $375. She said he also offered to provide her with $100 a month toward her mortgage, offered a life insurance policy naming her as a beneficiary and named her as a beneficiary on a personal bank account.

The woman said she told Huss she was not interested in a romantic relationship and that his advances were unwelcome, court records said.

She resigned from her job in March 2014.

In response to the complaint, Huss denied sexually harassing the woman or creating a hostile work environment but did acknowledge developing and discussing his feelings toward her and giving some of the gifts.

Huss, without state approval, set up a settlement conference with his former court reporter. In August, the Office of the Court Administrator “warned Huss that if he entered into a settlement agreement without OCA’s consent,” state law barred it from paying any damages.

Huss argues the warning was illegal and said he only entered into the negotiated stipulation with the woman after OCA informed him it would not defend him.

The Human Rights Bureau determined in October that there was reasonable cause to believe Huss had committed discrimination based on sex, and that OCA should not be held liable. But that case has been put on hold pending a decision in District Court in Lewis and Clark County over whether OCA is required to defend Huss or would be responsible for any compensation to his former court reporter.

Huss did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment. Andy Forsythe, a Billings attorney for the state, said he was still reviewing the case.

The woman’s attorney, Jory Ruggiero of Bozeman, said the state’s refusal to defend its employee should “give pause to every state employee who could be accused of something like this … because this leaves every state judge and every state legislator and every state employee unsure whether the state’s going to stand behind them.”

Huss wrote a letter to Mike McGrath, chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court, last month saying he would retire effective Jan. 1, 2016. The letter gave no reason for his retirement.


Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com

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