Two sexual harassment lawsuits against former Beaufort County Probate Judge Frank Simon have been settled, according to the attorney for the plaintiffs.
Simon’s former assistants, Tiffany Poloschan and Kerri Ray, sued the judge, accusing him of making lewd and sexually explicit comments to them in the workplace.
Lawyers representing both sides are tending to details of the settlement, terms of which will remain secret, according to Beaufort attorney Fred Kuhn Jr., who represents Poloschan and Ray. He would not elaborate.
Beaufort County will not be liable for any costs associated with the case or its settlement, county attorney Josh Gruber said.
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Last week, the U.S. District Court of South Carolina dismissed claims that the county was negligent in Simon’s alleged actions, according to court documents.
A 1998 ruling by the state’s 4th Circuit Court says a county’s authority to employ and discharge personnel does not extend to an elected official, as Simon was. That relieves the county of any liability for the alleged actions, the court ruled.
Because the county has been dismissed from the case, Gruber said he did not know any details about the settlement. However, the county and elected officials are insured through the S.C. Department of Budget and Control to cover costs related to legal action against the county, Gruber said.
Depending on the terms of the agreement, payments from that insurance may or may not be involved, Gruber said. Neither scenario would affect the county’s coverage or rates for the insurance, he added.
Kuhn said state insurance is involved in the settlement but that “it’s somewhat complex” and declined to go into detail. Attempts Wednesday to reach the S.C. Department of Budget and Control were unsuccessful.
Simon, now 86, was the county’s probate judge for nearly 18 years before he abruptly announced his retirement in June 2012 with two years left on his term.
A month later, sexual-harassment complaints filed with the county against Simon between May 18 and 22 of that year by three female employees became public.
Those complaints detail conversations with Simon that the women say included inappropriate comments about their clothes, repeated references to sex and stories of Simon’s sexual experiences that included details about his genitals.
All three women chose to remain anonymous at the time the complaints surfaced publicly, saying then they would not pursue legal action and were satisfied Simon had retired.
When Poloschan filed suit against Simon on June 11, 2013, it was the first time any of the women had been identified publicly. Ray filed her lawsuit two weeks later, on June 25. The third woman has not filed a lawsuit, according to court records.
Both lawsuits say Simon sexually harassed Poloschan and Ray and intentionally caused emotional distress. Poloschan’s suit also said Simon defamed her by telling co-workers she initiated their sexually explicit conversations.
Both suits sought unspecified actual and punitive damages.
Poloschan had worked for the court for just over two months when she quit and filed her complaint, according to her complaint.
Ray still works there, Gruber said. The county will not comment on the status of the third woman, who filed a complaint with the county human resources department but did not sue, he added.
Neither of the women named will comment on the case or settlement, Kuhn said. Attempts Wednesday to reach Simon and his Charleston-based attorney Carol Ervin were unsuccessful.
At the time, Simon declined to comment when asked whether his retirement was related to the allegations. He was first elected in 1994 and was re-elected five times, running unopposed in each election.
After Simon’s retirement, then-associate probate judge Kenneth Fulp Jr. was appointed Probate Court judge by Gov. Nikki Haley. Fulp will serve the rest of Simon’s term, which ends in December, and is running unopposed for the seat in this year’s election.