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Guerra's role in Lyden hiring scrutinized in commissioner's court

Julie Guerra.jpg
Posted at 7:34 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 22:40:04-04

After Nueces County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Adel Shaker and his former chief deputy Dr. Sandra Lyden were both arrested last week, county commissioners are investigating how this situation got this far.

During Tuesday's specially called meeting, commissioners looked to human resources director Julie Guerra for an explanation.

"We don’t know exactly what happened," said Guerra's attorney Steven Byrne.

Byrne told commissioners the fact that Lyden was allowed to practice medicine without a valid medical license was something beyond his client's control.

"The one thing (that) is clear is we got scammed," he said. "Nueces County got scammed. And as much as we think that we’re invincible to scams, it happens to the best of us, and that’s what happened here."

As human resources director, Guerra guides the hiring process for the county.

Shaker's arrest affidavit states that Guerra told Texas Ranger Patrick O'Connor that she was responsible for paperwork such as a criminal history check, driver's license verification and drug screening.

Because she had access to Lyden's employment paperwork and certifications, O'Connor's said in the affidavit that he believed Guerra knew Lyden had been practicing without a license for Nueces County.

Byrne, however, said Guerra's role was only to help Shaker hire the candidate he deemed appropriate.

“Julie Guerra did her job," he said. "She provided applications as HR is supposed to do to the medical examiner’s office. Those applications met the medical examiner’s requirements for the job. The medical examiner selected an applicant.”

As a department head himself, Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper concurs that it was Shaker's responsibility to verify Lyden was the appropriate candidate, just like the onus would be on him in a similar situation.

“It is ultimately my responsibility to hire somebody," he said. "It is my responsibility to see that the person I hire is qualified, and it is my responsibility to see that the person that I hire has the certification and accreditation that is required for the position that I put them.”

The Nueces County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5, Place 1 Robert Gonzalez defended Guerra's past professionalism.

“She’s always made sure that we have the top-notch qualified (person) for the job position," he said. "The interview process was our responsibility.”

And though criminal charges have been filed in relation to Lyden's hiring, Byrne said Guerra isn't to blame.

"That doesn’t mean that Julie Guerra has to pay the consequences,” he said.

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