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What you need to know for 01/20/2018

Appellate court affirms Saratoga County official’s firing

Appellate court affirms Saratoga County official’s firing

Court documents filed in a recent appeal indicate the Saratoga County Probation Department was in a

Court documents filed in a recent appeal indicate the Saratoga County Probation Department was in a state of disarray following a shuffling of administrators that occurred around the abrupt retirement of its director in 2009 and the hiring of his replacement nine months later.

Former deputy probation director Kathleen Kuznia’s challenge of her termination from the department details a number of organizational issues facing the Probation Department as it underwent a leadership change nearly three years ago. These problems include the loss of case files, the failure of an officer to oversee a probationer over the course of nearly 18 months, an unwieldy caseload an officer struggled to contend with after his predecessor was fired for lying about the probationers he visited, and a number of other regulatory violations committed by various staffers.

Kuznia, a 31-year veteran of the department, was fired after a hearing officer determined there was ample cause in February 2012. Her challenge to the ruling was dismissed in state Supreme Court of Saratoga County, prompting an appeal to the Appellate Division.

On Thursday, the appeals court affirmed Kuznia’s termination as valid. In reaching the decision, the justices found her boss — then-Probation Director John Adams — had given her ample warning about her failure to adequately perform her supervisory role.

“Here, the record reflects that although [Kuznia] twice was warned regarding serious and specific deficiencies in her job performance, she continued to exercise poor professional judgment with respect to, among other things, the management, training and supervision of the probation officer in charge of the DWI program,” Justice John Egan wrote in the eight-page decision. “The record further illustrates that [Kuznia’s] neglect of her duties — particularly with respect to her failure to implement certain policies and/or comply with mandated reporting requirements — not only created what Adams aptly described as ‘a huge public safety issue,’ but also exposed the county to liability.”

In her appeal, Kuznia argued she was being unfairly targeted by Adams for issues that arose when her workload multiplied exponentially following the retirement of Director Paul Viscusi in November 2009. She also questioned why others in the department committing the offenses that ultimately led to her termination never faced discipline.

Kevin Luibrand, the attorney who represented Kuznia before the Appellate Division, said he will review the ruling before determining whether to appeal the ruling.

“We’re looking at what we should do next,” he said.

Saratoga County Attorney Matt Dorsey and Administrator Spencer Hellwig did not return calls for comment on the case. Steven Bayle, who now serves as director of the Probation Department, had no comment, indicating the issues predated his employment with the county.

Kuznia served as acting director of the department after Viscusi suffered a heart attack in November 2009 and retired a short time later. She remained in the post until Adams took over the 25-person department in August 2010.

Even prior to Adams’ appointment, county officials raised a red flag over Kuznia’s performance. Specifically, she was criticized for her leadership, supervisory and time-management skills, in addition to her “lack of attention” to “time sensitive” reports, according to court documents.

Adams raised similar issues two months after taking office in 2010. Then, in January 2011, three files assigned to the DWI probation officer went missing, including one that involved an active probationer who had not been supervised in any capacity since July 2009.

“Adams immediately conducted an audit of the approximately 140 files assigned to such probation officer, which resulted in the discovery of additional deficiencies and omissions,” the ruling states. “As a result, [Kuznia] was charged in March 2011 with incompetence and suspended without pay.”

Further probing revealed the officer in charge of the department’s DWI program lacked sufficient training and had been given roughly 140 case files that were left “in absolute shambles” by a previous officer who handled them.

Luibrand argued before the Appellate Division that Kuznia’s termination was excessive given her otherwise unblemished record and the fact that the few supervisory workers who were fired previously had “knowledge of or endorsed illegal activity.” The justices, however, found Kuznia had demonstrated enough incompetence to warrant firing.

“Thus, notwithstanding [Kuznia’s] years of service and her prior positive performance evaluations, we do not find the penalty of termination to be shocking to this court’s sense of fairness,” the ruling states.

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