Four felony prosecutors forced to resign from the district attorney’s office recently had consistently high yearly reviews from their superiors, their personnel files show.
Susan Piel, Cary Piel, Ryan Calvert and John Rentz all consistently rated above 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being unsatisfactory and 5 being outstanding, and Susan Piel’s scores were consistently closer to 5.
The Denton Record-Chronicle made an open-records request for the personnel files, plus the personnel file of misdemeanor prosecutor Nadiya Williams-Boldware, whose lawsuit against the county named the four as reasons she believed she worked in a hostile work environment. A federal judge cut the four as defendants in the suit.
The county lost the lawsuit, and the four were fired the next week.
The open-records request was made July 2 in anticipation of a July 7 story about the terminations.
Jamie Beck, first assistant district attorney, notified the newspaper that the files were being withheld pending a request for an opinion from the Texas attorney general as to whether the files had to be released. Open-records law mandates that the opinion must be sought within 10 days or the requested information must be released.
After the story ran without information from the personnel files, the district attorney notified the attorney general that the opinion request was being withdrawn and the files would be released. The Record-Chronicle received the files July 24.
All this met the letter, if not the spirit, of the open-records law, said Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
“Technically, they had 10 days to decide [whether to seek the opinion], but the law actually says they should release the information promptly. After the 10 days they could be required to release the information whether it was confidential or not,” he said. “They did stay within the law.”
The attorney general’s opinion was sought on the 10th day after the request, which is the deadline day. The request was withdrawn July 24, the deadline day for filing a brief defending the arguments to withhold the files with the attorney general’s office. That gave the story the longest possible time to cool. But Beck said that was not the intention of her office.
“I can assure you that there was no deliberate attempt to use the open-records laws to circumvent releasing the records in a timely way,” she said.
Susan and Cary Piel have won high-profile cases in recent years, including convictions of Bobby Lozano, a police officer who killed his wife and then went free when a former district attorney dropped an indictment against him, and Charles Stobaugh, whose wife Kathy Stobaugh disappeared a day before she was to finalize a divorce that would give her half of a million-dollar estate. Although a body was never found, the Piels won a conviction in Charles Stobaugh’s murder case.
Those wins are reflected in the praise both received in their yearly appraisal reports for their talents as lawyers. Susan Piel’s appraisals showed mostly perfect scores of 5, and her supervisors wrote about her skill at managing people as supervisor of the misdemeanor section of the office.
Susan Piel was hired in 1996 at a rate of $35,000. She resigned and was rehired over the years as she had three children, and she was making $115,602 as a supervisor when she left. She and Cary Piel met and married while both worked for the district attorney.
Supervisors wrote that she had excellent communication skills and foresight and was a strong advocate for the lawyers who worked under her.
Cary Piel’s file did not contain a salary chart, but county records show he was making $105,000 in 2012 as a “first chair” felony prosecutor. Assessments contained mostly 4 and 5 scores, but his supervisors wrote over the years that he needed to work on getting along with other employees. One supervisor wrote that he needed to gain more patience with others and that he needed to understand that not every other attorney needed his assistance.
Another supervisor wrote that he needed to work on his people skills and relationships with his peers.
There was a letter of reprimand in his file for cursing in front of a defendant and several letters commending him for the good work he did on cases. Some recommendations from supervisors included controlling his temper.
Yet his numerical evaluations ranged from 4 to 5 in nearly every evaluation over the years.
Ryan Calvert was hired full-time in 2003 at a salary of $50,442 and was making $84,833 when he was forced to resign. He tried several high-profile cases, and his supervisors wrote glowingly of his trial abilities. He was named Attorney of the Year the past two years by the Denton County Crime Victims’ Services Coalition.
John Rentz was hired in 2004 at a salary of $48,500 and was making $84,833 as a “second chair” felony prosecutor under Cary Piel when forced to resign. His job assessment scores over the years averaged in the range of 4.
Nadiya Williams-Boldware was hired in 2007 as a misdemeanor lawyer at a yearly salary of $53,512. Her salary in 2012 was $81,258 after a promotion to a family law prosecutor.
Only one job evaluation appeared in her released personnel file, and it showed an overall score of 3.63. Susan Piel, who was her supervisor when she made the first complaint against Cary Piel, was not the person who evaluated Williams-Boldware in 2008.
In that evaluation, Williams-Boldware was described as hardworking, organized and uncomplaining about assignments.
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.