LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A case involving the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office has been thrown out of court. District Judge Ruben G. Reyes today announced the plaintiffs in the case had “failed to establish a prime facie case by clear and specific evidence for each essential element of Plaintiff’s claims.”
The case was brought by former Lubbock County employee Tita Senee Graves who was terminated from her position at the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Graves sued the Defendants for “tortious interference with her contract of employment with Lubbock County.”
The lawsuit said 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.
Graves’ attorney, Kevin Glasheen says he does not agree with this ruling. “We don’t think the law should have been applied to this kind of a case. We believe we do have clear and convincing evidence that the Doctor Andrews and Matshes and NAAG retaliated against Senee Graves for reporting misconduct on their part.”
According to information provided by The Margulies Communications Group in Dallas says Graves acknowledged taking pictures of an autopsy in progress and sending them to a pathologist who was not involved in the case. Graves was a Lubbock County employee at the time of these actions and her termination was made by her employer.
“Today’s court ruling reinforces and supports the statements we have made regarding this case and the controversy that it has generated throughout the community,” said Dr. Evan Matshes. “Neither Dr. Sam Andrews nor I are engaged in any type of research and have worked diligently to make sure that our autopsies meet the highest standards."
“As the Lubbock County Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrews is part of the criminal justice system,” said Matshes. “As part of the legal process, we have the responsibility to help make sure that those who are criminally liable are charged and prosecuted and assuring innocent people are not accused of a crime.
“The negative publicity that has been purposefully generated has resulted in other litigation as well as investigations of our firm and the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s office. We hope today’s decision will be the first of many that will end this controversy.”
In May, 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 Tita Senee Graves.
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 the two lawsuits filed against them.
In the second case, the adopted mother of a child whose autopsy was performed under the direction of NAAG, Rebecca Ortiz, filed a lawsuit against NAAG and the doctors in charge.
In response, NAAG and Doctors Andrews and Matshes filed motions to dismiss both lawsuits under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, also known as the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute.
Glasheen says he and his client will be appealing this case. “The anti slap statute doesn’t apply. Even if it does apply, we do have clear and convincing evidence as required to show that she suffered retaliation for reporting misconduct.”
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.
The judge has ruled the Ortiz case filed against NAAG may proceed, denying Andrews’ motion to dismiss.