A lawsuit has been filed against Fergus County District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips by a female law clerk who alleges that the judge slapped her in the buttocks with a legal file.
Britt T. Long filed the civil lawsuit in Fergus County District Court on Sept. 12, alleging that Phillips, her boss, caused her “extreme personal stress and embarrassment, anxiety, stress, interrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, and other symptoms associated with extreme anxiety.”
Long is a lawyer who has worked in the judge’s Lewistown office inside the county courthouse as a law clerk since 2008. The lawsuit alleges a civil claim of assault and seeks an unspecified amount for lost wages, medical bills and punitive damages.
The lawsuit also asserts that Phillips should resign from his elected position “to remedy and prevent further instances of this and other violations of his obligations as a judge damaging to the public trust.”
In an interview Thursday, Long said she filed the lawsuit pro se — meaning she is representing herself — but would seek the help of an attorney “if it becomes necessary.” Long graduated from law school in New Mexico in 2001 and is licensed to practice law in four states, she said.
According to the lawsuit, Long alleges that on Dec. 8, 2010, she was in Phillips’ office when he came up behind her and “intentionally slapped her buttocks with a case file folder.”
Long said she took unpaid medical leave as a result of the incident. She tried to return to work recently, Long said, but there was no work for her and she has not returned to the office.
Phillips said Thursday that he could not comment in detail because of the pending litigation. The judge, who was elected to the post in 2000, did say that he was “disappointed and discouraged” by the allegations.
Phillips suggested that citizens “look at my record instead of this,” saying he had “worked hard for almost 11 years” to be a fair judge.
Long said she filed the lawsuit in part “to get this information out to the public.” The last paragraph of the three-page complaint states that Phillips “has also inappropriately revealed personal sexual interests from the bench, experienced failures in short-term memory, failure to observe legal procedure and civil procedural rule requirements, repeated and lengthy absences and unavailability for judicial duties over a period of years in a manner detrimental to public safety and public trust.”
Long also alleges that Phillips has used his “position and official letterhead to pressure those with information damaging to him to change their stories.”
Long said in the interview that she filed a criminal complaint against the judge with the Fergus County Sheriff’s Office and the case is being investigated by state authorities. She said she also provided information to the Montana Human Rights Bureau but did not file a formal complaint with the state agency.
Long declined to say whether she filed a complaint against Phillips with the Judicial Standards Commission, a branch of the Montana Supreme Court that oversees judicial conduct. It would be a violation of state ethic rules for attorneys to comment on a possible complaint to the commission, she said.
Fergus County Attorney Thomas Meissner said he could not comment on a possible criminal investigation. Judy Beck, a spokeswoman with the state Attorney General’s Office, said state agents are not involved in any criminal investigation into the judge.