Nearly five years’ worth of lurid accusations by and against the prosecuting attorney of a southern Missouri county were set to be aired in a federal courtroom – until a last-minute confidential settlement brought the trial to a halt.
The lawsuit, filed by Texas County Prosecutor Michael Anderson’s former administrative assistant, Monica Hutchison, made detailed accusations of sexual harassment, as well as abuse of office.
Hutchison, then known as Monica Daniel, worked for Anderson’s law firm and then for him in the Texas County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, according to the lawsuit. Anderson was first elected to the office in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006 and 2010.
The suit claimed Anderson “engaged in unwelcome and non- consensual physical contact of a sexual nature with plaintiff, used offensive and abusive language toward her, harassed her, intimidated her, made degrading and sexual comments in front of her, and created a hostile work environment based upon her sex.”
As an example, the petition said Anderson acted rudely to a man who approached Hutchison at a staff training session at Tan-Tar-A Resort at the Lake of the Ozarks in September 2005. When Hutchison reminded Anderson that he was “not her boyfriend or her father,” Anderson allegedly threw his drink against the building and walked off.
Anderson fired Hutchison on Dec. 1, 2005, after accusing her of “saying things about him” and “putting together evidence to file a sexual harassment suit against” him, according to the petition. But a week later, a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer called her, saying Anderson was sorry and offering her job back.
A late-night visit
Hutchison accepted, but the agreement was short-lived. Anderson came to her home at about 1:20 a.m. on Dec. 18, according to the lawsuit. Hutchison and Mildred Williams, a friend who was staying with her, refused to come to the door. Anderson allegedly called Hutchison several times and left messages on her answering machine, then “beat on the door and even wiggled the door handles trying to open it.” He left after a local police officer drove by, but then he left a lengthy message on Hutchison’s machine “indicating that he had feelings for plaintiff and that he loved her.”
On Dec. 23, after Anderson asked Hutchison to give him her answering machine tape and she refused, Anderson obtained a search warrant for the tape. Hut-chison handed over a copy of the tape and quit that day.
Hutchison filed a charge of discrimination with state and federal authorities a few months later. Then on May 31, 2006, Anderson filed a civil lawsuit against her and her friend Williams, claiming they had libeled and slandered him “to deprive him of his publicly held position” as prosecutor.
Among its more outrageous claims, Anderson’s lawsuit alleged the women planned “to coordinate and orchestrate a ‘swinger’ style sex ring out of the Texas County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Texas County Associate Court office.” Williams was a clerk for then- Associate Judge Bradford Ellsworth.
The suit was dismissed 40 days later, but not before Anderson had publicized its contents in press releases to local media outlets.
Anderson said in court papers that the two sides agreed to dismiss the state court action and litigate the dispute in a then- ongoing complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2008, the EEOC declined to pursue the matter but said Hutchison was free to file a civil action in court. Her federal suit was filed in January 2009.
Sexually charged behavior
In court documents, Anderson denied Hutchison’s accusations. In a motion for summary judgment filed last August, Anderson pointed to widespread sexually charged behavior in the prosecutor’s office, including trips to strip clubs by staff members, parties where Hutchison and others allegedly bared their breasts and frank discussions of workers’ sex lives. Anderson quoted a portion of Hutchison’s deposition in which she said “we were all probably saying and doing things that was inappropriate in the office.”
Anderson testified that he wanted the answering machine tape because he suspected he had been “involuntarily drugged” and that he intended to play the tape for a doctor who would be able to tell if Anderson was under the influence of the date rape drug GHB, rather than alcohol.
In his motion, Anderson said that “as of this date, Hutchison has failed to produce any evidence that Anderson acted with malice in instituting the 2006 lawsuit or that Anderson lacked probable cause to bring that lawsuit.”
Anderson acted as an individual when he brought the lawsuit but said he was acting as prosecutor when he subpoenaed the answering machine tape. Anderson said it was a criminal investigation and his actions there were “akin to a prosecutor’s role as advocate for the state in appearing before a judge and presenting evidence in support of a motion for a search warrant.” He sought absolute immunity.
Judge Richard E. Dorr threw out some of Hutchison’s claims but allowed the case to proceed to trial, including on the claims of malicious prosecution and abuse of process. “The Court will not repeat all of the sordid details which were the purported subject of Anderson’s complaint,” Dorr wrote. “Suffice it to say the surrounding circumstances and content of the complaint are highly irregular” and best left to a jury.
Likewise, the judge said Anderson’s handling of the inquiry into the answering machine tape “constitutes highly irregular procedure.” Dorr noted that, according to Anderson’s testimony, “no criminal file was opened, he did not assign a special prosecutor to handle the alleged crime committed against him although he was the victim, and in fact, Anderson did not have anyone listen to the tape after it was turned over.”
The case was scheduled for trial starting March 30 in the federal courthouse in Springfield, but the parties reached a confidential settlement that afternoon, before the jury was empaneled.
The suit was against Anderson in his personal capacity. Dorr last year dismissed Texas County and the prosecutor’s office as defendants.
Anderson did not return a message left at his office. His attorney, Warren E. Harris, of Taylor, Stafford, Clithero, Fitzgerald & Harris in Springfield, declined to comment, other than to say there were “no admissions of fault by anybody.”
Hutchison’s attorney, David Steelman, of Steelman, Gaunt & Horsefield in Rolla, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Although Hutchison’s suit is over, litigation against Anderson is not. Williams, the court clerk who was with Hutchison the night Anderson left the messages, filed her own lawsuit in July 2009. That suit is pending in Webster County Circuit Court.