Transylvania County Courthouse in Brevard.

BREVARD — After more than two years of legal wrangling Transylvania County officials may be prepared to negotiate with Renee Crocker, the county’s former Child Protective Services supervisor.

As Carolina Public Press previously reported, Crocker’s attorney, Don Barton of Brevard, had promised to file a contempt complaint against several county leaders, a threat he made good on Friday.

The county has not given Crocker her job back despite a court order instructing them to do so and the exhaustion of the county’s appeals.

A member of Barton’s staff told CPP late Wednesday that the parties are likely to enter negotiations prior to a formal hearing.

The Office of Administrative hearings, the quasi-judicial state agency with which Barton filed the contempt motion, confirmed to CPP Wednesday afternoon that no hearing has been scheduled so far.

Among the Transylvania county officials named in Barton’s motion were Board of Commissioners chairman Mike Hawkins, county manager Jaime Laughter, DSS director Daryl Renfroe, human resources director Sheila Cozart and personnel officer Cindy Anders.

Barton argues in the filing that the Office of Administrative Hearings ordered the county in May 2016 to reinstate Crocker to her position and give her back pay and attorney’s fees. The county appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel upheld the lower court’s decision in March. The county then appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, which on Nov. 1 declined to review the case.

Barton said in his motion for contempt that the county has “willfully failed and refused to abide by the terms of the Order” by not giving Crocker her job back, and that the county exhausted all of its legal avenues when the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Barton is asking an administrative law judge to find the county officials listed in the motion to be in contempt of the prior order and to order the county to pay Crocker’s attorney’s fees for the filing.

Barton previously told CPP that an attorney for the county had approached him to discuss settling the case but that he “wasn’t settling anything.”

Crocker was terminated from her position in 2015 after admitting to using her professional relationship with a judge to solicit advice about a child custody dispute that the judge was mediating, involving a Brevard woman and a convicted drug dealer whom Crocker’s daughter was dating.

That judge, Emily Cowan, later recused herself from her work on that case because of the communication with Crocker.

The administrative law judge who heard Crocker’s case originally found that termination was an excessive disciplinary response on the county’s part to that one offense.

Although a scathing Department of Health and Human Services review found serious problems with Transylvania’s Child Protective Services division under Crocker, county officials testified that the decision to fire Crocker was related to the single issue of her inappropriate communication with Judge Cowan.

CPP has attempted to contact county officials this week about whether they are likely to negotiate and what settlement terms might be acceptable, but they had not responded as of publication of this report.

Michael Gebelein

Michael Gebelein was an investigative reporter with Carolina Public Press. To contact Carolina Public Press, email info@carolinapublicpress.org or call 828-774-5290.

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