December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Former Coroner Matus faces disciplinary action

ELYRIA — Lorain County General Health District Medical Director Paul Matus is facing disciplinary action for allegedly leveling false misconduct accusations against health officials and threatening to expose that misconduct if he was disciplined, according to documents released Friday.

Matus was placed on paid leave last month while a neutral third party was brought in to conduct a hearing, scheduled for Feb. 22, to review the allegations against him and recommend what, if any, punishment is warranted. Under the terms of his contract, Matus could be fired from his $48,000 per year job.

Matus had been the subject of a sexual harassment investigation last year, but Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said that the former county coroner’s behavior didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment. He also said some of Matus’ behavior was inappropriate, even if it wasn’t technically sexual harassment.

Innes has declined to release documents detailing the sexual harassment allegations and subsequent investigation.

According to the documents released Friday, Matus refused to take part in sensitivity training when asked to do so during a Jan. 11 meeting. He later agreed that he would take the training if others at the Health District did so, his lawyer, David Cuppage, wrote in a statement issued Friday.

During conversations on Dec. 12, Jan. 8 and Jan. 11, Matus falsely accused former Health Commissioner Ken Pearce of orchestrating the allegations against him as an act of revenge, the documents said.

“Matus, on each of these occasions, has falsely accused the (Health) Board of trying to railroad him, of depriving him of an opportunity to defend himself, and of proceeding with disciplinary action against him in violation of its own policies,” the documents said.

In a Jan. 18 letter, Cuppage wrote that the timing of the investigation was suspicious because it was launched around the time that Pearce retired, Aug. 31.

Public records indicate Pearce originally planned to return to his old post, but after a proposed contract became public, the Health Board backed off the idea and later brought Pearce back as a consultant.

Matus, Cuppage wrote, was suspected of having a hand in the negative publicity generated by Pearce’s plan to “double dip” by collecting both his retirement pay and a county salary.

Acting Health Commissioner Dave Covell is expected to be named Pearce’s permanent replacement at a meeting later this month.

Matus declined to comment Friday, but Cuppage said in a statement that his client “intends on vigorously disputing the charges” against him.

He wrote that it appears Matus is being punished for his attempts to defend himself from the sexual harassment allegations. Cuppage wrote that Matus was never formally notified about the nature of those allegations.

But according to the latest round of allegations against Matus, he knew about the investigation and, during a Dec. 14 meeting with Covell, “Matus deceptively represented that he had no knowledge that reports had been made concerning his behavior around female employees.”

Matus also was accused of trying to eavesdrop on an Oct. 10 executive session of the Health Board that he had been excused from, according to the documents.

He also allegedly contacted the ex-husband of a Health District employee seeking information that could be used against one of the employees who had reported him.

Matus also allegedly “made personal and derogatory attacks upon the moral character and integrity of female staff members, specifically Stephanie Charles and generally ‘these women’ employed by the Board, accusing them of conspiring with Pearce ‘to get me,’ ” the documents said.

The documents also state that during a Jan. 11 meeting, Matus spent an hour detailing mismanagement and wrongful actions taken by the Health District and its employees. He also allegedly accused of Pearce of not handling another sexual harassment allegation against another employee.

“Matus generally accused the entire staff of the Health Board of incompetence and misconduct, including Ken Pearce and the Board itself, stating that he virtually single-handedly ‘held the district together,’ ” the documents said.

Matus acknowledged that while he had known about the problems for years, he never reported them to the Health Board, according to the documents. He also refused to turn over copies of material that detailed the alleged misconduct.

Innes said the Health District hasn’t investigated the allegations made by Matus during the Jan. 11 meeting because it is unclear exactly what the wrongdoing might be. He described the comments Matus made during that meeting as “disjointed.”

Cuppage wrote that during the Jan. 11 meeting, Matus was given an ultimatum “to resign or be fired.”

“Dr. Matus does not harbor contempt for the Board of Health and has always respected its authority,” Cuppage wrote. “However, he simply did not agree with the highly irregular and clandestine conduct of a severely prolonged and damaging investigation, an investigation which did not follow any established standards and was without any credible evidence.”

Cuppage also wrote that his client has a constitutional “right to speak about what he perceives as being unfair treatment.”

Innes said that Matus is perfectly within his rights to state his opinions, but he crossed a line.

“He doesn’t have a right to make false allegations against other employees and threaten the board,” Innes said Friday.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.