David Yates Sep. 26, 2013, 2:57pm

Jefferson County is asserting it has sovereign immunity from a woman suing it and the official she claims forced her out of her position because of her political preferences.

According to the complaint filed Feb. 28 in Jefferson County District Court, Rebecca Bowden claims she lost her job as deputy constable of Precinct I in Jefferson County after the newly-elected Precinct I Constable Nick Saleme was elected to office.

Court records show that on March 22 the county and Saleme answered the suit, asserting a general denial and that it is entitled to sovereign immunity. 

The answer argues that the plaintiff has not pleaded sufficient facts to overcome its immunity.

According to the suit, when elected, Saleme wanted to work with only those employees who agreed with his political policies. However, under Jefferson County rules, only the sheriff is able to operate the office in an at-will manner.

Because Bowden had attended a Republican Christmas party in support of Charles Wiggins, the incumbent Precinct 1 constable, she faced the prospect of losing her job if Saleme was elected to office, the complaint claims.

Saleme was elected as constable of Precinct I in Jefferson County – an election result that Bowden claims terrified her because she believed that meant she would lose her job.

Before he was office, on Nov. 13, 2012, Saleme allegedly talked to Wiggins on the phone and revealed his plans for his future employees, according to the complaint.

“The people in your office have been there for a long time and I feel that they are politically loyal to you …,” Saleme allegedly told Wiggins on speakerphone. “I don’t want to have to be worried about being stabbed in the back or have anyone going to others telling them what I am doing and trying to make me look bad…So, they will be let go.”

The suit says due to Saleme’s choice to fire employees, Bowden, who is a single parent, claims she was forced to make a decision by Dec. 17 as to whether she would retire and be able to continue receiving an income or whether she would lose her job.

“No good cause exists for the termination of the plaintiff or any of the people who employed in the Precinct I Constable’s Office,” the suit states.

“Nick’s motivation in terminating plaintiff and her fellow workers in Precinct I was substantially motivated by plaintiff’s exercise of protected speech and or association in attending the Republican Christmas/kick-off political party of Dec. 19, 2011, or working for the former Democratic then Republican candidate Charles Wiggins as Constable of Precinct I.”

Bowden is asking that Saleme be restrained from terminating employees for political issues or from depriving them of their protected interests.

She is also seeking a declaration that Saleme and Jefferson County violated her Constitutional rights and is seeking other relief the court deems just.

Larry Watts of Watts and Associates in Missouri City represents her.

First Assistant District Attorney Thomas Rugg represents the defendants.

The is assigned to Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court.

Case No. B194-038

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