A judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by San Luis Obispo County’s former Veterans Services director that claimed the county sabotaged the ex-employee’s efforts to find another job, ruling that he missed several deadlines to produce evidence.
Dana Cummings resigned as Veterans Services director in September 2015, a month before the release of a county audit that found “serious lapses” in cash handling procedures and financial oversight within his department.
Cummings, a Marine Corps veteran who served two tours of combat duty in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, had run the department of about 10 employees since September 2011.
In his lawsuit filed in February, Cummings alleged that former county Chief Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi violated a nondisparagement clause in his separation agreement when Buckshi allegedly recommended that Stanislaus County officials not hire Cummings when contacted for reference.
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In his ruling adopted Thursday, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera wrote that Cummings and his attorney never produced evidence, “willfully abusing the discovery process and disobeying the court.”
The complaint was dismissed with prejudice, meaning Cummings can not refile. Cummings must also pay the county $4,300 in sanctions, County Counsel Rita Neal said Thursday. Though the case didn’t make it to trial, Neal said the county “had every intention of vigorously defending the case.”
Reached for comment, Cummings’ attorney Matt Janowicz said that he intends to file a motion to have the ruling set aside, but that motion was not filed by end of day Thursday.
Roughly five weeks after Cummings’ abrupt resignation, the county Auditor-Controller-Tax Collector’s Office released a report based on an audit of all cash and receipts on hand at Veterans Services as well as a review of internal controls and cash-handling procedures.
Though all cash was in balance, auditors identified four “serious lapses” in how the office handled its cash and checks. Among the findings, the report said Cummings was performing all functions of collecting and depositing cash and reconciling the department’s receipts in conflict with county policy.
Checks were found to be late in being deposited, including one check for $16,694, despite a county policy that requires checks greater than $500 to be deposited the next business day.
Cummings responded to the report on Aug. 19, saying most of the problems noted in the report occurred because the county failed to fill staffing vacancies in the department. He wrote that he had tried for three years to address the staffing problem but was “told on several occasions that the department would not get that type of support.”
In his lawsuit, Cummings wrote that his tenure in SLO County was plagued with “ongoing personality conflicts” with CAO Buckshi, who he claimed “seemed intent on forcing (Cummings) from his position,” possibly “in retaliation for disagreements about how to manage the department.”
Cummings — who did not say why he left at the time — states in the lawsuit that he voluntarily resigned from his position because of tensions with Buckshi, but both parties signed a nondisparagement clause stating neither party would “defame, discredit, malign, ridicule or slander” the other.
The clause also allegedly stated that Cummings would have the opportunity to respond to any questions from prospective employers about his tenure with the county in order to “prevent Buckshi from sabotaging his efforts to obtain future employment.”
After leaving the county, Cummings said he applied for a job as a veterans services officer in other counties and had several successful interviews “only to mysteriously fail to receive an offer once the potential employer began checking references.”
He received an offer for work as a VSO in Stanislaus County in March 2016 — to the point where Stanislaus officials were calling to congratulate him — only to have the offer rescinded days later, he said.
“When Mr. Cummings inquired why, he was informed that the offer was revoked because (Buckshi) spoke to the (county administrative officer) of Stanislaus County and recommended that Stanislaus not hire Mr. Cummings,” the lawsuit reads.
Cummings was seeking an unspecified amount of damages for breach of contract.