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Investigation finds 'a gathering of chatty gossips' in county personnel issue

May 20: This article has been updated to correct a description of Grant's response to the Spotlight.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Columbia County Circuit Judge Jenefer Grant appears in a Columbia County courtroom. An investigation prompted by claims Grant made about stalking by Community Justice Director Janet Evans found that Grants claims ranged from unsubstantiated to blatantly false. An independent investigation of a stalking accusation made by Columbia County Circuit Judge Jenefer Grant against Department of Community Justice Director Janet Evans found the accusations were unsubstantiated and went against established procedures for reporting personnel issues.

The Columbia County Department of Community Justice, which encompasses parole and probation, has a history of personnel conflicts, the investigator noted. Multiple current and former employees reported a hostile environment working under Evans.

On Sept. 14, 2018, Grant met for lunch with parole and probation Officer Patsy Sadler at a restaurant near the Columbia County Courthouse. The meeting, Sadler later told the investigator, was for the specific purpose of talking about Evans.

Later that fall, Grant asked Columbia County Commissioner Henry Heimuller to stop by her office to talk. When he did, she told him Evans was "stalking" an employee in Evans' department. But months later, an independent investigation found that much of Grant's statements ranged from unsubstantiated to blatantly false.

According to Heimuller's interview with the investigator, Judge Grant claimed that while she and Sadler sat in the restaurant, Evans parked her car outside the restaurant and peered in the window at Grant and Sadler.

Heimuller reported Grant's claims to the county's human resources director and reached out to Evans, who denied the allegations. Evans also requested an investigation, which the county initiated with Craig Stoelk.

When asked about the incident after her initial report to Heimuller, Grant "retracted and changed her previous statement," according to the report, now claiming that she had not seen Evans look in the window of the restaurant, but that Sadler had seen it and appeared upset. In her interview, Sadler said she never felt Evans was stalking her.

Grant told the investigator that another parole and probation officer — Nicole Read, who also had conflict with Evans — notified her hours after the lunch meeting that Evans had been on the phone and appeared agitated that afternoon. Grant believed Evans' mood was a reaction to Grant and Sadler's lunch meeting.

Further conflict exists between Evans and Grant, who used to be friends in addition to colleagues, per information in the report. Eventually, Grant claimed, the friendship ended as Evans became less agreeable in professional interactions.

Heimuller told the investigator that Grant has indicated she wants Evans out of her current position.

Grant told the investigator that when a former probation officer, Christopher Hoover, resigned, he told her about issues with Evans that concerned her. Grant then encouraged staff in Evans' department "to come to her to vent complaints" about Evans, which ultimately led to Sadler's lunch appointment with Grant.

But, the investigation points out, the parole and probation officers already had access to "a platform to express concerns and offer protection against retaliation." Grant has no role in that platform.

"The avenue for expression that [Sadler] and [Read] appear to use with support from [Grant] reflects as a form of disrespect or insubordination for the supervisory function and services afforded by this employer," Stoelk wrote in the report.

The lunch meeting — and other examples of Grant communicating with parole and probation officers about Evans — "reflects more so a gathering of chatty gossips as opposed to constructive professional collaboration," Stoelk wrote.

Heimuller declined to speak about the investigation. At press time, neither Grant nor Evans had directly answered questions from the Spotlight.

Grant resigns presiding status

Grant resigned from her role as presiding judge in late April. Grant is still an active judge, but the role of presiding judge, which involves delegating cases among the court's judges, is now filled by Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove. Grant wrote in her resignation that she "remain[s] willing to serve as presiding judge again here if at any point you see fit to reappoint me."

In a statement provided by a spokesperson for the Oregon Judicial Department, Grant said her resignation was due to a different strain, and not the findings of the Stoelk investigation

"The sole reason for my resignation was to avoid conflict with another judge. I don't expect this shift in administrative duties to significantly change the work I'm doing, inside or outside the courtroom," Grant told the spokesperson.

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