Crime - Sacto 911

Judge: Sacramento County to pay $5.3 million in legal fees in deputies’ suit

A judge ruled Sacramento County must pay $5.3 million in fees to attorneys for four female sheriff’s deputies who alleged their superiors retaliated against them.

Thursday’s ruling ballooned the county’s bill in its six-year legal fight against the women to more than $10 million.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge David De Alba had mulled the multi-million dollar award since a Sept. 9 hearing on the proposed payout. Even then, De Alba told attorneys that he was “inclined to embrace” his original ruling.

On Wednesday, De Alba did in another blow to Sacramento County’s six-year legal battle with sheriff’s Sgt. Tracie Keillor, Deputy Jodi Mendonca, Lt. Dawn Douglas and lead plaintiff Lt. Annica Hagadorn over their claims that department superiors retaliated against them for complaining to state fair employment and housing officials about discrimination and preferential treatment that shuttled them out of assignments and damaged their careers.

“The Court does not does not make this award lightly,” De Alba wrote in his Wednesday ruling, stressing as he did at last week’s hearing that the award “intends only to compensate Plaintiff’s counsel for their effort, skill success, experience, and risk taken in representing Plaintiffs in this case,” adding that his decision is not intended to be a negative comment on the county or its sheriff’s department.

Jurors at trial before De Alba in May returned a stunning $3.6 million verdict for the deputies. The verdict came despite a steady stream of department leaders at trial including Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, under whose watch many of the deputies’ claims were to have taken place, and Undersheriff Erik Maness who was accused of shipping Mendonca, Keillor and Douglas from their jail posts after they confronted him about a suspected inappropriate relationship with a female deputy.

Sacramento County has so far paid attorneys more than $1.15 million to take the case to trial and appeal the verdict. The county has said it will appeal Wednesday’s decision.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

Related stories from Sacramento Bee