This story has been updated to include Monday comments from Lynne Finley regarding employee accommodation.
Collin County Judge Chris Hill has released a letter that contains multiple allegations against Collin County District Clerk Lynne Finley, including that she denied two employees with underlying health conditions from being able to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The release of the letter comes three days after Hill and Finley engaged in a heated debate over what Finley said were “stolen” emails from her office. Finley contends that Hill took her emails before she had the necessary time to vet them for privileged or exempt information. Hill has denied that anything was stolen and said that before Finley’s emails were provided or reviewed, the county’s attorney evaluated the inquiry and advised that it was legal and valid.
“Chris Hill, the Collin County Judge, on one or more occasions, improperly seized documents and emails under my care, custody and control, without my knowledge or consent, by improperly accessing the email servers used by the Office of the District Clerk,” Finley said in a written statement provided Wednesday to Star Local Media. “When Judge Hill's misconduct was discovered, both the Office of the District Clerk, and the Collin County IT Department notified him in writing that his conduct was inappropriate and in violation of State and Federal law. Despite repeated warnings, Judge Hill improperly seized a significant number of protected communications and documents on one or more occasions.”
When asked about that portion of Finley’s statement, a Collin County spokesperson said the elected officials involved in the interaction would need to speak to their exchange.
“Judge Hill's actions in this matter, and in others that I am aware of, do not reflect the professionalism and service that the citizens of Collin County have a right to expect of their elected officials. Judge Hill has repeatedly exposed the citizens of Collin County to both legal and financial liability,” Finley’s statement read.
According to a Thursday statement from Hill’s office, the request for select emails from Finley’s office was a part of an “ongoing inquiry” into the District Clerk’s Office. Hill stated that the Collin County Commissioners Court had been “compelled” since 2019 to respond to a series of legal, financial and personnel issues stemming from the office.
According to the statement, Hill sent a letter in November to County Attorney Herb Bristow detailing various allegations against Finley and “seeking guidance on how to protect the county from potential liabilities.”
The November letter was provided as part of Hill’s Thursday statement.
“The Collin County district clerk has demonstrated a consistent pattern of poor leadership and poor judgement across her tenure of elected service, and it is now common knowledge that the district clerk has abandoned the job and neglected the duties to which she was elected,” Hill wrote in November.
In the letter, Hill alleged that Finley’s actions had directly resulted in the District Clerk’s Office losing the ability to provide passport services to Collin County citizens. Hill stated that Finley had been in a conflict with the U.S. Department of State in early 2019 that removed her from the Passport Application Acceptance Program.
Hill said the State Department officially said the reason for her removal had been a “potential conflict of interest/inappropriate relationship between staff from the district clerk … and a local passport and visa expediting company.”
“Mrs. Finley vehemently contends that there was no conflict of interest, and indeed, informal conversations with a State Department official revealed that Ms. Finley’s demeanor and the manner of her communications with the State Department were a significant reason that no resolution was reached,” he said.
Hill stated the Commissioners Court attempted to “salvage the relationship," which proved unsuccessful.
“As a result of the closure of the county’s passport office, the citizens of Collin County lost a valuable and important passport resource that was consistently in high demand, the county lost approximately $1 million in annual passport-related revenue and seven county employees in the District Clerk’s Passport Office lost their jobs,” Hill stated in November.
In a separate allegation, Hill states that at Finley’s direction her office refused to provide administrative support for the county’s magistrate judge.
According to Hill’s letter, in December 2019, Finley “unilaterally decided” that her office would immediately stop performing duties associated with the magistrate court, citing that she needed more clerks in her department to support the magistrate court.
“All persons who are arrested and jailed in Texas have a statutory right to be seen by a magistrate within 24-48 hours to hear the charges against them and to be instructed about the justice process and their legal options,” Hill stated. “Mrs. Finley’s refusal to support the magistration process left the Commissioners Court and the magistrate judge scrambling for a solution to provide these essential services.”
Included in Hill’s letter is an allegation that Finley did not physically come in to work between March 10 and Sept. 14.
During Monday’s interaction, Hill brought up Finley’s attendance, and Finley said she and her family members were at a high risk for COVID-19.
She added that her office had run smoothly and that she had worked through approximately 7,000 emails during the time period in question.
“You wanted me to come to this court in October before we even had a vaccine,” Finley said. “You almost demanded I appeared in person until you realized I actually have a letter from my doctor who says ‘You should not be in public.’ You wanted to force me to be here.”
On Monday, Hill said his accusation did not question whether she had been doing work.
“It questioned your attendance at county facilities while you were requiring your staff to attend and you were not attending,” Hill said.
“That is not accurate,” Finley said.
Hill’s November letter includes allegations that Finley denied two employees the ability to work remotely and that they had both provided documentation from physicians that they had underlying health conditions that rendered them unable to work in an office during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hill alleged that Finley has sought to terminate the employees for failure to return to the office. The employees had both filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Discrimination claims against Finley’s office, Hill said.
“Mrs. Finley’s actions have exposed the county to tremendous financial liability, particularly when it is noted that Mrs. Finley has not been working in the office regularly since March 10,” Hill wrote.
Hill added that Finley also denied a request from another employee who also sought to work from home while undergoing treatment for stage 4 cancer.
“The employee, unable to work in an office environment due to a severely diminished immune system, chose to resign (thereby forfeiting her county health insurance benefits) rather than return to the office or seek legal remedy,” Hill stated.
Monday’s discussion between Hill and Finley included multiple mentions of a letter from Hill that included allegations against Finley.
"I have never failed to follow HR’s advice, I have never failed to give anybody an accommodation that HR feels was needed ever," Finley said Monday.
She added that she goes "directly with what HR says."
"So the people in that letter that you said I didn’t accommodate, is a lie. It’s just flat out a lie," she said Monday.
Hill’s letter also included an allegation that Finley’s actions had put the county at risk of forfeiting a records management and preservation fee, which he said would result in the termination of three employees.
“If she was an employee of the county, she would already have been terminated for cause,” Hill stated at the end of his November letter. “But as an elected official, it appears there is very little that can be done to hold her accountable until the next election.”
Hill said the Commissioners Court had attempted to hold Finley accountable and to resolve issues for months but that it had typically been “stymied in its efforts.”
“Even so, I have already reached out to Mrs. Finley to discuss these various issues directly and privately and to appeal to her sense of duty and personal pride, but my calls have neither been answered nor returned,” Hill stated.
During Monday's meeting, Finley said the letter was slanderous, libelous and “full of lies.”
Finley did not respond to a request for comment by press time.