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Branch Leave Extended for Two Weeks : Inquiry: Officials are still interviewing employees about complaints of misconduct by the county recorder.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

County Recorder Lee A. Branch, the subject of sexual harassment and abuse claims by office employees, will remain on leave for at least two more weeks while county officials try to complete an investigation of his conduct.

Branch had been scheduled to return to work Monday, but county Personnel Director Russell C. Patton said more time is needed to interview workers in the recorder’s office.

After speaking with County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider, Branch agreed to the extension last week, Patton said.

“We may or may not have the investigation completed at that point in time,” Patton said, “but he (Branch) agreed that the additional time might be a good idea.”

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The recorder has been on paid leave since Oct. 29, shortly after employee complaints surfaced about Branch’s personal relationship with documents manager Nancy L. Smith. Some employees have complained that Branch showed favoritism to Smith within the office and made lewd remarks to another office worker.

Both Branch and Smith have been accused of physically abusing employees on the recorders’ office staff, in separate incidents.

Branch has acknowledged his relationship with Smith, who is on indefinite leave from her duties. Both flatly deny the accusations made by employees.

Neither Branch nor Smith could be reached for comment Monday.

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Patton said it was expected that the county affirmative action office would complete its employee interviews by the end of the week. By at least the middle of next week, investigators are expected to start interviewing Smith and Branch.

Nearly half the recorder’s office’s 45 employees have so far asked to make statements or have been called for questioning by investigators. The large number needing to be interviewed has delayed the probe, originally expected to take two weeks.

“I’m not sure every facet of the investigation will be complete in two weeks,” Patton said.

Until Branch’s scheduled return, county officials have asked Robert A. Griffith, deputy director of the county’s Social Services Agency and former chief of employee relations, to oversee department operations.

Griffith’s temporary appointment was expected to help repair the department’s flagging morale. In addition, he is expected to recommend ways the department can improve its efficiency.

The recorder’s office, employing about 100 people, is responsible for the filing of documents largely related to local real estate transactions.


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