Graham County Superior Court Clerk, Cindy Woodman was relieved of her duties last Friday by an Administrative Order filed by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice, Robert M. Brutinel. The order stipulates that Graham County Superior Court Presiding Judge, Michael Peterson, will have administrative control and oversight of the day-to-day operations of the clerk’s office. The order gives Peterson the authority to reassign the duties of the Clerk of the Court and all personnel of the Clerk of the Court’s Office, “to manage court and financial records, to revoke signing authority on any governmental bank accounts and to access computer systems and to expend funds for the operation of the Clerk of the Superior Court’s Office.”
Woodman was elected to the position in 2018 and took office this year. Soon after she took office, deputy clerks began reporting instances of inappropriate behavior by Woodman. Her staff complained to the Graham County Human Resources Department that Woodman had created a hostile workplace environment.
The complaints were so numerous and serious that the Human Resources arranged for an independent investigator. Judge Peterson made Woodman aware of the complaints by letter in April. The following day, Woodman apparently responded to the letter in writing insisting that she was the victim of hostility and discrimination. According the Judge Peterson’s letter to the Arizona Supreme Court, Woodman disavowed any responsibility for any problems that existed in the Clerk’s office.
Complaints against Woodman
A deputy clerk who had been ordered by her doctor to only work 32 hours per week was berated by Woodman during a staff meeting, implying that she had not been working hard enough. Woodman responded angrily toward other deputy clerks who defended and supported the employee.
Since Woodman assumed the duties of Clerk of the Court, seven employees have resigned from the office due to her management and behavior. In exit interviews, employees said that Woodman would talk down to employees, would not help customers, argued with staff and refused to learn the clerk’s duties. One of the employees left the office after only one week, citing Woodman’s ‘toxic work environment.’
In August, during a discussion with the human resources director, Woodman described an incident between two employees that left one of them in tears. Woodman said that she told the offended employee not to pay attention to the other, then “slapped her on the butt.”
The Human Resources Director replied, “please tell me that you did not actually do that.”
Woodman replied, “Yes, I did, just like when you are in sports.”
Woodman then demonstrated what she had done by reaching across the clerk’s counter and slapping the director’s buttock. The director told her that that type of behavior is completely inappropriate in an office setting and should never happen.
Woodman defended her actions saying, “Well, it is just like saying ‘good job.”
The Human Resources Director was surprised by Woodman’s admitted behavior, especially since Woodman had recently attended a course in prohibited harassment by supervisors in the workplace.
In July, the investigator who was tasked with looking into the allegations against Woodman and the condition of the workplace environment of the clerk’s office said that there was no prospect of improving the deteriorating relationship between Woodman and the deputy clerks. In a meeting with the investigator and Judge Peterson in late August, Woodman insisted “that the deputies were against her, that she was being sabotaged by the deputies, and that until and unless the deputy clerks changed, that these problems would persist.”
But even deputy clerks who were hired by Woodman described the same toxic work environment as the others. On September 30, the Human Resources office learned that a new deputy clerk was not given any clear direction or training of their duties. When co-workers tried to give some training, their direction was usually contradicted by Woodman and Woodman’s directions were usually incorrect.
People who went to the clerk’s office to pay probation service fees and other fees, fines, etc., were apparently told by Woodman that there was no one available to help them. They were turned away without being able to make their payment.
Because of the utter chaos in the court clerk’s office, the Human Resources director became intimately involved, almost on a daily basis. She reportedly witnessed firsthand how Woodman was treating the staff. The director reported that her observations reinforced the allegations that Woodman “is unwilling to learn, listen, cooperate, lead or act in a professional manner.”
The director described how Woodman would make snide remarks that had nothing to do with the situation at hand and could not stay on task. In her report to Judge Peterson, the director said that she was completely appalled by Woodman’s behavior, especially since she is serving as an elected official.
Judge Peterson’s letter described Woodman’s mishandling of evidence from a jury trial. At the conclusion of the trial, Woodman apparently sent evidence from the case back to the Thatcher Police Department, even though she was informed by her staff that the clerk’s office was required to retain the evidence in case of an appeal. During a hearing in July, Judge Peterson found that Woodman had violated the applicable statutes, rules, procedures and protocols governing the handling of evidence. It was believed that Woodman had also perjured herself at the hearing, giving false testimony.
Woodman, however, denied responsibility for her actions in the evidence case, claiming that her mishandling of the evidence was the result of a communication problem between her and the court. The court, refuted her assertion, saying that Woodman never attempted to communicate with the court about the matter.
On two occasions during August and September, Judge Peterson attempted to conduct court proceedings, only to find that there were no available clerks to perform their courtroom duties. In both instances, the court had a full schedule and the courtroom was full of attorneys, defendants, court staff and others there for the proceedings. The court calendar was delayed for about 20 minutes while a deputy clerk was located, their computer booted up and the recording system was set up.
Deputy clerks said that Woodman routinely failed to review the week’s court calendar and coordinate scheduling of court clerks for courtroom duty. Woodman denied responsibility for the incidents. She insisted that she was not responsible, and that the problem was the result of last-minute calendar changes. The court refuted her assertion, pointing out that they always begin at 8:30 a.m.
On September 24, a juror was excused from service because he is a sole proprietor. When he left the courtroom, Woodman (who had been in the courtroom) followed him to his place of business and confronted him. In her conversation with the man, she insinuated that he had lied to the judge about his employment situation. When Woodman was leaving, the man was visiting with a prospective customer outside. Woodman rolled down her window and stated, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody.”
Peterson’s letter to the higher court stated that numerous attempts to address and solve the problems in the clerk’s office have failed. Peterson wrote that “there is conclusive evidence that Ms. Woodman is unwilling or unable to perform her duties as clerk of the court.” He noted how she has completely failed to acknowledge responsibility for her actions or to solve the problems. Peterson requested an administrative order empowering him to appoint a lead deputy clerk with full authority to perform all of the duties of the clerk under his supervision. Peterson requested that the order remain in effect until Woodman can demonstrate that she is competent to perform the duties of Clerk of Superior Court.
The administrative order handed down by the higher court stipulates that, “though Ms. Cindy Woodman remains Clerk of the Superior Court, she shall perform only duties assigned to her by Judge Peterson, to be performed at a location he designates.” The order stipulates that Woodman’s assigned duties may be limited to non-court related functions. She may be remanded to attend educational and training programs to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for her to return to her duties as Clerk of the Superior Court.