Local judge sued in sexual discrimination lawsuit

Photo Courtesy of masslife.com || Local Judge Thomas H. Estes is subject of a federal sexual harassment complaint.

Photo Courtesy of masslife.com ||Local Judge Thomas H. Estes is subject of a federal sexual harassment complaint.

Cas Sweeney ’19 | Associate Editor

Tammy Cagle, who used to work as a drug court clinician for the Behavioral Health Network (BHN) in Springfield, Mass., filed a federal lawsuit on Jan. 22 against Judge Thomas H. Estes, former first justice at Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown.

She is suing both Estes and Behavioral Health Network for sex discrimination and a hostile work environment. Her lawyers have filed claims regarding “violations of federal and state anti-discrimination laws, including Judge Estes’, BHN’s and the Trial Court’s violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

She alleges that Estes coerced her into oral sex, made repeated advances on her and was the cause of her eventual removal from her position at BHN.

She initially entered into a consensual relationship with Estes, but when she expressed discomfort with continuing, according to her lawsuit, “Judge Estes threatened [her] that things would be worse for her if someone found out about their sexual relationship.”

Allegedly, he then forced her into a sexual relationship with him in his office, and when she began to withdraw, acted cold and dismissive toward her and eventually intervened to have her put on administrative leave.

Attorney David Hoose of Northampton, who is representing Estes, denies the claims, saying that Cagle’s dismissal was unrelated and that the relationship was initiated by Cagle herself.

The lawsuit is the follow up from a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint that resulted in Estes being placed on administrative leave in August 2017. The complaint was replaced with the lawsuit in January when no further progress on the case was made.

Jennie L. Caissie, a representative on the Governor’s Council from Oxford said, “That he would do this in a courthouse, as a judge — the abuse of power, it violates all the codes of conduct. … It is very disturbing.”

Estes has been on administrative assignment since that original complaint, and therefore has not presided over any cases. He still, however, collects his annual salary of $172,194.

Councilor Mary Hurley of East Longmeadow said, “He’s not doing any work. … He’s sitting in an office being paid to do nothing, which I think is horrendous.”

Despite her frustration, the Governor’s Council does not make decisions on active judges. They only have the power to deliberate on nominated judges before they are appointed to the courts.

There is very little precedent when it comes to removing a judge for misconduct. Hurley said, “The fact of the matter is the chief administrative justice for district court does not have the authority to remove a judge.”

The initial lawsuit was filed in the Boston District Court and then was sent to the federal court in Springfield. Currently the next step will be taken by the Supreme Judicial Court who has the power to recommend suspension or removal. Their advice will go to state Legislature, who will make the final decision.

Hurley believes that the current procedures for handling these cases needs to be updated, and that “The taxpayers deserve better.”

To make this process less lengthy, State Senator Anne Gobi of Spencer filed legislation last year designed to hold judges more accountable. If passed, it would “establish a commission to study judicial accountability in the commonwealth.” Both Caissie and Hurley said they support the bill.

The bill, S. 870, has been referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary where its has remained in stasis since last October.

As of now, it is uncertain how the case will resolve, but the lawsuit does bring questions on how the commonwealth of Massachusetts handles the enforcement of sexual discrimination laws in regards to those in positions of judicial power.