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June 14, 2014

Judge throws out suit by former Ipswich court clerk

IPSWICH — A judge has thrown out the lawsuit brought earlier this year by a former Ipswich District Court clerk seeking more than $500,000 in back pay for the time she spent on an unpaid suspension while awaiting trial on a witness intimidation charge.

Alison Story Desmond, 56, a former assistant clerk magistrate, spent nearly two years on suspension from her $84,870-a-year job while charges that she hindered a police investigation were pending.

Newburyport police had approached Desmond after learning she had signed a former colleague, court officer David Vitale, Vitale’s nephew and a third man into the Newburyport Elks Club in 2011, just hours before a violent confrontation with a cab driver and an alleged attack on a disabled man. Desmond initially claimed not to know the men. She and Vitale were charged later with witness intimidation.

Last September, Desmond admitted to sufficient facts in the case, which was continued without a finding for a year on the condition that she resign her clerkship and not seek any other employment with the Trial Court.

Assistant clerk magistrates are among the most powerful positions in a court, with nearly all of the same authority as a judge to issue complaints and warrants and conduct court proceedings such as arraignments.

Despite the admission of wrongdoing, Desmond was approved to receive a $40,429-a-year pension because, state officials said, a continuation without a finding is not considered a conviction.

But in a suit filed in February, Desmond contended that she should have first been reinstated to her position and been paid the two years’ salary, plus all of her unused vacation, personal and sick days.

Because that did not immediately happen, she argued, the Trial Court violated the state wage law, triggering a provision that entitled her to triple damages, or more than $509,000.

The Trial Court disagreed; it had already told Desmond that she was entitled only to unused vacation time from before her suspension.

In response to the suit, the Trial Court filed a motion to dismiss the case on summary judgment.

Following a hearing last month, Lawrence Superior Court Judge James Lang granted the motion, dismissing the case.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.

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