I don't like how the game is turning out so I want to change the rules midstream
ANYONE DOUBT SHE'LL GET WHAT SHE WANTS? WELCOME TO FAIRFAX COUNTY.
Fairfax wants attorney documents in John Geer case kept under seal
By Tom Jackman August 6
A top Fairfax County government attorney, who faced termination for her handling of a case involving the fatal police shooting of an unarmed man,wants to pursue a grievance against the county, which is seeking to keep key documents in the case hidden from public view.
Deputy County Attorney Cynthia L. Tianti was nearly fired in March after Sharon Bulova (D), the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said Tianti had not informed the board that the county prosecutor wanted to meet to discuss the case of John B. Geer, who was killed by a county police officer. Tianti headed the legal team that advised Fairfax Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. to withhold documents from the prosecutor in his investigation of Geer’s 2013 killing, previously released e-mails show.
County Attorney David Bobzien said in March that he was eliminating Tianti’s position as deputy in charge of operations and reorganizing the office while Tianti was placed on leave as the first step in a termination process. But in June, the county restored Tianti to her job as deputy county attorney, although she was assigned to work only on matters involving the Community Services Board, which provides help for people with mental illness and substance abuse problems.
Tianti sought to file a grievance over how she was treated, court records show. Fairfax has well-defined rules on what may be heard by the county’s Civil Service Commission, and the county executive decides whether a grievance can proceed to the commission, an impartial hearing body for county employee grievances and appeals. Court filings show that after a series of e-mails and meetings, Fairfax Deputy County Executive David Rohrer, the former Fairfax police chief, denied Tianti the opportunity to take her case to the commission.
Tianti is appealing Rohrer’s decision to Fairfax County Circuit Court. In that case are documents that apparently involve Tianti’s communications with the Board of Supervisors, according to the county’s filing. The county wants to keep those documents sealed, saying they fall under attorney-client privilege or attorney work product, according to a letter by attorney Sharon Pandak, who is representing Rohrer.
Two people familiar with the case said the communications could support a claim by Tianti that she did nothing improper and possibly contradict the board’s claims that Tianti did not keep them informed about the case. Tianti declined to comment on the case or the content of the communications. She has worked for the county for 25 years and received a top employee award for her work on another case.
Circuit Court Judge Daniel Ortiz will hear arguments Friday on whether to keep the communications between Tianti and the board sealed. The judge has 30 days to rule on whether Tianti should be allowed to proceed with her grievance.
Bulova said of Tianti in an e-mail, “It is interesting that the county attorney who advised the police and Board of Supervisors to not share or release any information is now prepared to release privileged attorney-client information that she believes might be to her advantage. This is a personnel matter regarding an employee who is not happy about being transferred (which was an alternative to being terminated). The Board of Supervisors does not participate in the grievance process and I don’t know what material or documents she wants to have released.”
Asked whether the supervisors would waive their attorney-client privilege to withhold the underlying documents in the case, Bulova said the board is not scheduled to meet again until Sept. 22 and could discuss a waiver then.
After Geer, 46, was shot and killed by Officer Adam D. Torres on Aug. 29, 2013, Fairfax police began a criminal investigation and provided the results to Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh. Morrogh asked the police that November for prior internal affairs involving Torres as part of his deliberations on whether to charge Torres with a crime.
But after consulting county attorneys Tianti and Karen L. Gibbons, Roessler refused to provide the prior Torres files, e-mails between Gibbons and Morrogh show. Morrogh referred the case to the Justice Department in January 2014 to seek the files in federal court. It is not clear whether Tianti advised the Board of Supervisors of those developments.
In September 2014, with no movement from the Justice Department, Morrogh sought to arrange a meeting with Bulova to discuss the lack of cooperation from police in the Geer case, seemingly at the behest of the county attorney’s office. “When one section of the police department is instructed to withhold information from the investigating officers and the prosecutor, the integrity of the investigation is called into question,” Morrogh wrote.
Tianti responded that she was Bulova’s attorney and would need to be present. Morrogh inquired about speaking to the board at a public meeting. Tianti answered, “I did not know of a way for you to do so,” the e-mails show.
When the e-mail exchange was made public in February, Bulova said she had never been told that Morrogh wanted a meeting and that she would have met with the prosecutor.
Various supervisors expressed frustration with the county attorney’s office, and Tianti was placed on leave in March.
Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.