CHICAGO (CN) – A former Cook County worker cannot use the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying about political influence in county employment, a federal judge ruled.
Cook County policy prohibits hiring or firing a government employee for any political reason. A Supplemental Relief Order issued in 2007 also included a procedure for hearing complaints of political discrimination brought by Cook County employees.
In 2010, Doris Gershon, a longtime deputy human resources director for the county, was called to testify at two employee hearings.
Her attorney informed the complaint administrator, however, that Gershon would invoke her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
Gershon proceeded to assert the Fifth Amendment for nearly every question.
Gershon was asked questions such as: “Could you briefly describe the screening process in Cook County? Can you please tell me a little about the posting process and how postings are created? Can you please explain the process of a salary change?”
She was also asked, and refused to answer, yes-or-no questions such as, “Is it correct that you were the deputy chief of the bureau of human resources,” and “Do you know Betty Torres?”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkler granted the complaint administrator’s motion to compel Gershon’s testimony last week.
“Ms. Gershon’s blunderbuss approach has left the court guessing at which questions might elicit answers that could be incriminating,” the ruling states. “This is not a proper assertion of the privilege.”
“Indeed, her broad-based refusal to answer even the most anodyne questions and her argumentative comments suggest simply that she no longer felt like answering questions and militates against a finding that Ms. Gershon truly believed answering questions would expose her to criminal liability,” Schenkler added. “What’s more, in several responses, Ms. Gershon displayed her contempt for the deposition process:
“A: I take the Fifth. I’m going to take all Fifths. I mean, I don’t want to go through this.
“A: I take the Fifth. I’m going to do this all the time. I mean, I’m not going to go through this again.
“A: I take the Fifth. This is so stupid.
“A: I take the Fifth. This is crazy.
“A: I take the Fifth. This is stupid. I take the Fifth. This is making me crazy.
“These responses demonstrate more of an overriding disdain for the deposition, rather than a well-founded fear of self-incrimination,” Schenkler said.
The judge also dismissed Gershon’s argument that Cook County hiring practices have “long been associated with the possibility of criminal prosecutions.”
“Despite years of investigations by the CA [compliant administrator], Ms. Gershon does not cite a single criminal prosecution, state or federal, that has arisen from information gathered by the CA,” the ruling states.
Schenkler noted that Gershon voluntarily answered the administrator’s questions in other interviews related to this proceeding.
“Were we to find that Ms. Gershon has a sound basis for asserting her Fifth Amendment privilege as to some of the questions asked in the deposition, we would nevertheless find that she has waived that privilege with respect to her answers to questions on the same subjects in the prior interviews with the CA,” he wrote.
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