Justice Gives Up Top Job in Baby-Sitting Furor
West Virginia’s top judge, acknowledging “public outrage” over his firing of a secretary for refusing to baby-sit, gave up the post of chief justice Friday but kept his seat on the Supreme Court and offered the woman her job back.
Pat White, state treasurer of the National Organization for Women, said that Richard Neely’s decision was a “step in the right direction” but reiterated NOW’s demand that he resign from the court.
Neely was elected to a second 12-year term on the bench last fall. The one-year post of chief justice, which includes no extra salary, is rotated among members. Neely, 43, would have served until January.
The controversy began when it was disclosed that Neely had fired Tess Dineen, 59, from her $23,000-a-year secretarial job because she wanted to stop baby-sitting for his 4-year-old son.
Dineen cared for the judge’s son, John, the week of May 13-20 while Neely and his wife were in Alaska for the judge to present a law review paper.
After three straight weeks of evening and weekend baby-sitting beyond her secretarial hours, Dineen told Neely this month she could not do it any longer.
Neely, who has defended his right to order his staff to perform such duties as baby-sitting, collecting his laundry and typing books he has written, said in a statement that he was bowing to public pressure.
“The extensive public outrage associated with Ms. Dineen’s job requirements have at least given the appearance of impropriety, and the collective comments of senior members of the West Virginia Legislature demonstrate that my particular use of private staff confounds public opinion,” Neely said.
Because public confidence is vital to the operation of the court system, Neely said: “I hereby resign as chief justice.”