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COUNTYWIDE : Recorder’s Office Saga Continues

A long-running feud is continuing between the county recorder’s officer and Stanley L. Roach, a self-described “whistle-blower.”

The latest chapter comes in a libel lawsuit filed by assistant recorder Ella M. Smith against Roach, who she says besmirched her reputation in his campaign literature when he challenged her boss, recorder Lee A. Branch, in Branch’s reelection bid last June.

Branch won the election with 72% of the vote.

The lawsuit was filed in October, although Roach said he only learned about it a few days ago when he was served with papers.

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The court documents state that in a campaign brochure sent to title companies, Roach made several statements that exposed Smith “to hatred, contempt, ridicule . . . because it exposes plaintiff to humiliation and loss of professional prestige.”

Roach, on the other hand, said the lawsuit is part of an attempt by those in the recorder’s office to intimidate him.

“It’s been years of harassment,” he said. “I thought it was over, and then this comes up.”

Roach has been battling the department since before July, 1988, when Branch fired him from his job as a computer analyst for the county recorder’s office. Roach maintains that he was dismissed because he had uncovered extensive errors in the office’s recording of deeds as well as a serious lack of security around other vital records, including marriage, birth and death certificates. Those kinds of errors, Roach says, will cost millions of dollars to correct and could cost the county in lawsuits over inaccurate records.

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Branch, however, has said Roach’s dismissal was related to his performance on the job.

But Smith said Tuesday that the charges and countercharges between Roach and her boss have nothing to do with her lawsuit.

“This is strictly between Mr. Roach and me,” she said. “He made allegations in his campaign literature that question my professional credibility and integrity.”

In her suit, Smith quotes extensively from a campaign letter Roach sent out entitled, “Orange County Recorder’s Office: Some examples of mismanagement, incompetence and cover-up.”

In the letter, Roach accuses Smith of lying to newspaper reporters and trying to cover up faulty record-keeping in her department. Roach called the lawsuit “frivolous” and unfounded.

After he was fired in July, 1988, Roach, now a private data-processing consultant, filed suit against his former boss, alleging breach of contract, wrongful discharge and retaliatory discipline.

In March, 1989, county officials decided to settle by paying Roach $53,230, but they admitted no wrongdoing.

They also ordered an independent audit of the recorder’s office. The report was completed in September or October, Branch said, but he said he would not make it available to the public because it addresses issues of records security.

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