Friday, September 29, 2023
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A Right to Associate With One’s Probation Officer?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) - A probation officer and her former charge cannot sue the county workers who tried to break up their romantic relationship, a federal judge ruled.

When Lebanon County, Pa., workers ordered probationer Jeffrey Gardner to stay away from his former probation officer, they were acting "reasonably and legitimately to protect the integrity of the probation system," U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani found.

"The defendants' purpose in keeping plaintiffs apart was to vindicate the principle that probation officers are not to have intimate relationships with probationers," the 21-page opinion states.

With that determination, the judge tossed a civil rights case by Jeffrey and his officer-turned-wife, Erin Gardner.

The couple had claimed the probation workers violated their constitutional right to association by trying to bar them from interacting with each other after Erin resigned from her probation-officer post.

According to the Gardners' March 2010 suit, the workers were not acting under any statutory authority when they arrived at Jeffrey's apartment in March 2008, after Erin had resigned from her probation position for a job with the Army.

That night, the workers allegedly threatened to jail Jeffrey if Erin didn't leave his apartment.

The head of Adult Probation, Sally Barry, and her assistant, Richard Worley, also told the couple that Jeffrey was barred from seeing or otherwise associating with Erin, the suit claimed.

Lebanon County Chief of Detectives John Leahy charged Erin with two felonies later that month in retaliation for Erin's complaints that special probation conditions were being imposed on Jeffrey without a court order, the suit states.

Mariani dismissed the claims against Barry, Worley and Leahy last week, finding that Jeffrey's probationary status limited his right to free association under the First and 14th Amendments.

"Accordingly, defendants acted with reasonable and legitimate justification in requiring Jeffrey to ask Erin to leave his house and in ordering Jeffrey to refrain from engaging in any contact with Erin" until an internal investigation was completed, the judge ruled, noting that their physical relationship began prior to Erin's resignation from the probation department.

The Gardeners had also filed claims against Lebanon County, but Mariani closed the case with his dismissal of the individual defendants.

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