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Rape of Child by Former Washington DOC Director’s Son Spawns Departmental Crisis

Rape of Child by Former Washington DOC Director’s Son Spawns Departmental Crisis

by John E. Dannenberg

The Washington State Court of Appeals has upheld the firing of the Department of Corrections’ (WDOC) chief personnel counselor for violating the department’s privacy policies while counseling staff during a crisis caused by salacious publicity surrounding the WDOC Director’s son having been charged with child rape.

The internal hubbub over unfolding news reports concerning the arrest and guilty plea of Joseph Lehman, Jr., son of then WDOC Director Joseph Lehman, Sr., ultimately resulted in the October 2003 firing of Cyndi Walters, director of WDOC’s Staff Resource Center, for indiscretions in dealing with crisis counseling over the incident. Although Walters had won relief in the superior court, the appellate court reversed and found ample evidence of her having violated confidentiality rules and having neglected her duties.

The Court of Appeals focused on investigative interviews by Walters of WDOC staff, and her subsequent discussions about those interviews with other WDOC employees – including statements in which she falsely implied that she had provided counseling services to Director Lehman. Walters was bound by a duty of confidentiality, which the WDOC claimed she violated.

Also brought up were past indiscretions by Walters in the performance of her duties. In June 2002, she was the subject of a whistleblower’s complaint by the state auditor over misconduct for using her office to exploit state resources for personal gain. In September 2002, she was called on the carpet by her supervisor for alleged travel expense abuses. In May 2003 she was reprimanded for failing to follow orders to answer a public disclosure request. One month later, she was directed to improve her job performance in areas of communication, accountability and credibility. And in August 2003, she received a letter of reprimand for refusing to respond to her supervisor’s request for information concerning work activities.

In reversing the superior court, the Court of Appeals found that the record was more than sufficient to support Walters’ eventual firing, particularly since her discussions of the counseling interviews regarding Lehman’s son’s crime had violated WDOC’s confidentially policy. See: Walters v. Department of Corrections, 144 Wash.App. 1032 (Wash.App.Div.2, 2008) (unpublished); 2008 WL 2026133.

Joseph Lehman, Jr., then 38, pleaded guilty to charges of raping his two-month old daughter, and received a four-year prison sentence in December 2003. As part of his plea agreement, Lehman Jr., admitted having “oral and manual sexual contact” with his two month old daughter for “about ten minutes.” The crime was discovered and reported by his fiancée, Roxanne Crowder.

At the time, state sentencing guidelines called for an 8 year sentence, the sentencing court imposed a sentence below the guidelines which is unusual. Prosecutors had recommended only six months in jail plus sex offender treatment – which would have been highly unlikely for any other child rape defendant who was not the son of a high-ranking state official. Moreso when one considers that Lehman Jr., confessed to Washington police that he had raped a ten year old girl in Maine in 1997, while his father headed that state’s prison system. Lehman Jr. had previously been involved in a 1989 Tacoma bank robbery where he masterminded the armed robbery of an armored car for $35,000. Lehman Jr. was sentenced to one day in jail for that crime. For someone whose father runs prison systems, the son seems to do a fairly good job of avoiding them.

Additional source: Associated Press

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Related legal case

Walters v. Department of Corrections