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Former Auchincloss assistant files suit for wages, defamation

The man who helped send James Auchincloss to jail on child pornography charges is suing the half-brother of Jackie Kennedy Onassis for almost $1.5 million for lost wages, defamation of character and other civil complaints.

Attorneys for Auchincloss, 65, and Edward McManus, 46, Auchincloss' former assistant, squared off at a motion hearing before Jackson County Circuit Judge Ron Grensky on Monday afternoon.

McManus' attorney, Jeff Campbell, said his client tried to get Auchincloss to stop possessing and distributing the illegal and offensive materials before going to police.

McManus is entitled to monetary awards for the damages he suffered because of Auchincloss' activities related to the felony offenses, Campbell said.

McManus has lost his job, his home and suffered extreme emotional distress, Campbell said.

Auchincloss, along with co-defendant Dennis Vickoren, a former Rogue Valley Transportation District bus driver and Sunday school teacher, and Scott Clay, a former Jacksonville city planner, each pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges of encouraging child sex abuse after McManus turned over evidence that proved the trio had been possessing and distributing photographic images of prepubescent children, which prosecutors described as lewd and lascivious in nature. The men were sentenced to about 30 days in jail for the felony charges and required to register as sex offenders and undergo sex-offender treatment under a plea agreement.

A key issue at Monday's hearing was whether McManus, a private employee hired as a $4,000-a-month personal assistant by Auchincloss, is eligible for protections under whistleblower laws. Campbell argued McManus is protected because the law states he had a public duty to expose Auchincloss' activities.

"We believe (McManus) had a right to do his job ... and not be exposed to this," Campbell said.

McManus made it known to Auchincloss in May 2008 that he was a victim of child abuse and that he found the images upsetting and offensive. But Auchincloss insisted the photographs were "art" and said that the children were happy and getting paid to pose for the images, Campbell said.

Brett Baumann, Auchincloss' attorney, said McManus did not have a binding contract with Auchincloss.

"This was not a child porn factory," Baumann said. "We're not saying he had to move out. He could have looked away."

McManus also was not required to call the police, and that doing so opened him up for termination without whistle-blower protection.

In many whistle-blower cases, private citizens are not protected if they "rat someone else out" — even if they are engaged in criminal activities, Baumann said.

McManus is entitled to the whistle-blower protections because he was fired for exposing criminal activity that occurred at his place of employment, Campbell said.

McManus tried to settle the matter without going to the police by having Ashland attorney Allen Drescher write a cease-and-desist letter to Vickoren in July to stop him from sending child porn to Auchincloss' computer, according to police documents. When that failed to stop the activity, McManus contacted police and turned over evidence that Auchincloss was "in possession of child pornography," according to an affidavit.

Police searched Auchincloss' and Vickoren's houses and found slides containing images of prepubescent boys engaged in sexual acts, the affidavit said.

During questioning in 2009, Auchincloss said he believed McManus told police he had pornography because Auchincloss had accused McManus of stealing $18,000 from him. McManus has denied stealing money and insists he told police about the pornography because he felt it was the ethical thing to do.

McManus testified before the grand jury that indicted Auchincloss, Vickoren and Clay.

Auchincloss pleaded guilty to two felony counts of first-degree encouraging child sexual abuse on Aug. 18, 2010.

"What I did was immature, irresponsible, indefensible, stupid and inexcusable," said Auchincloss, shortly before deputies escorted him from the courtroom to begin serving a 30-day jail sentence.

Grensky on Monday questioned McManus' choice to remain in Auchincloss' employ and his residence. Stating "child pornography is as bad as it gets," Grensky noted McManus ultimately had to be evicted from Auchincloss' home.

"I think it's hypocritical," Grensky said.

Campbell countered that Auchincloss, not his client, was committing the offenses.

"We believe the plaintiff had a right to his job," he said.

Grensky declined to rule Monday on several of Auchincloss' and McManus' motions, including requests for summary judgment on parts of the case. He said he would review case law on the matters first. A pretrial hearing is set for August. The case is set to go to trial in late September.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.