LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - On Friday, Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner Sam Andrews filed a motion to recuse Judge Les Hatch from hearing any matters in the lawsuit filed against Andrews and the National Autopsy Assay Group Pathology Labs.
According to the motion, Judge Hatch is the father of Hayden Hatch, who is counsel for the plaintiff in another pending case Tita Senee Graves v. NAAG Pathology Labs, PC, Dr, Evan William Marshes and Dr. Sam Andrews. In that case, Graves sues Defendants for “tortious interference with her contract of employment with Lubbock County.”
The complaint says a new protocol put in place at the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office which involved the removal of various organs and other tissues as part of the autopsy and investigation of deaths of children. She claims she was fired because she opposed this practice.
The motion to recuse Judge Hatch says, “The facts in the Graves case are similar to, and in fact are connected with, the allegations in this case, which is a suit over the removal of organs and other tissues from the body of a deceased child as part of an autopsy in a criminal investigation. Rulings that Judge Hatch might make in this case could have a direct impact on the outcome of the Graves case as the facts alleged in this case are directly relevant and intertwined with the facts in the Graves lawsuit in which Judge Hatch’s son is counsel.”
Earlier in May, Andrews, NAAG and Evan Matshes filed motions to dismiss two lawsuits filed against them.
As the KCBD Investigates Team reported last year, the medical examiner’s office went through a major shakeup when the county hired a third party (NAAG) to run the office last fall.
Since then, some employees have come forward accusing the new management of unethical and unlawful activity.
One former employee, Senee Graves, and the adopted mother of a child whose autopsy was performed under the direction of this new management, Rebecca Ortiz, filed lawsuits against NAAG and the doctors in charge.
In response, NAAG and Doctors Andrews and Matshes have filed motions to dismiss those lawsuits under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, also known as the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute.
In order to succeed on an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss, the defendants must be able to prove the lawsuits are based on, related to, or in response to the defendant’s exercise of the right to free speech, the right to petition, or the right of association.
On the filing of this motion, all discovery in the legal action is suspended until the court has ruled on the motion to dismiss.
We spoke with NAAG spokesman, David Margulies about the filings.
“NAAG is asking the court to throw out these cases on a number of different grounds. For example, Ms. Graves was a county employee; she did not work for NAAG and that NAAG had no relationship or obligation to Ms. Ortiz. The filing also stresses there was no misconduct involving the operation of the medical examiners’ office by anyone associated with NAAG," Margulies said.
We also spoke with Chad Indermann whose law firm is representing Graves.
“Anti-SLAPP statutes have really recently come into vogue to use them and misapply them in the context outside of defamation type cases,” Indermann said. “It’s really just a frivolous lawsuit. We are not concerned at all."
The hearing to decide if the Graves suit will be dismissed is scheduled for June 20, 2019.