Sacramento County is appealing a multimillion-dollar retaliation verdict awarded a quartet of female sheriff’s deputies in May, saying it’s the county’s duty to taxpayers to fight the payout in a case that has already cost the county more than $1.15 million.
And an attorney for the four deputies on Thursday called the county’s appeal a costly “Hail Mary,” saying the county’s move will only further tap taxpayers while denying the deputies justice won in the courtroom and affirmed by a trial judge.
“If the county wins the appeal, it only means a new trial without guarantee of a different result,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jerry Chong said. “The only guarantee is more taxpayer money will be spent on a delay in justice for the plaintiffs.”
In a statement Wednesday, officials announced Sacramento County had filed an appeal of the verdict ahead of a 4 p.m. deadline, saying that missing the deadline would prevent the county from pursuing future legal action.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
“It’s our fiduciary duty to the taxpayers to pursue any avenue that could reduce the cost of judgment and set the stage for any future actions,” Roberta MacGlashan, Sacramento County Board of Supervisors chairwoman, said in the statement. She added that an appeal “may provide a better result for the county.”
Sacramento County has been fighting the legal skirmish for six years, hiring prestigious Sacramento employment law firm Porter Scott to defend against the deputies’ claims. Porter Scott is handling the appeal, said county officials.
Costs and fees so far to fight the 2010 retaliation lawsuit brought by Sheriff’s Lt. Annica Hagadorn, fellow lieutenant Dawn Douglas, Sheriff’s Sgt. Tracie Keillor and Deputy Jodi Mendonca now stand at $1,154,003.06, said county spokeswoman Chris Andis.
Sacramento Superior Court jurors in May sided with the plaintiffs, awarding them $3.6 million in damages for retaliation the deputies alleged they suffered at the hands of their superiors after they complained of bias, discrimination and preferential treatment that they say sidelined their careers.
Keillor, in 2013, suffered a debilitating stroke that she maintained was triggered by a Sheriff’s Department internal affairs investigation into accusations that she had improperly accessed electronic personnel records while on the job. The accusations against Keillor were determined to be unfounded. Jurors decided that the investigation was retaliatory and awarded the sergeant $3.2 million of May’s nearly $3.6 million verdict.
Much of the conduct detailed in the suit was alleged to have happened under Sheriff Scott Jones’ watch when Jones ran the Sacramento County Main Jail as a captain, and later when he was elected Sacramento County sheriff.
The five-week civil trial offered a rare inside look into the policies, practices and culture of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department as department leaders past and present, including now Undersheriff Erik Maness, former Sheriff John McGinness and Jones took the stand for the county.
Jones, who is running against incumbent Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, for Bera’s 7th Congressional District seat, denied the deputies’ allegations and “strongly disagreed” with the jurors’ verdict at a Sheriff’s Department news conference in May, but told reporters that the “burden of leadership dictates that this falls squarely on my shoulders in terms of what to do from here forward.”
Jones has since denied allegations of unwanted advances toward a female deputy when he was a legal affairs sergeant in 2003. The allegations were levied in a deposition, the July 2014 transcripts of which were contained in court documents that were part of the plaintiff deputies’ retaliation suit.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge David De Alba, who affirmed the verdict in July, continued a hearing to determine whether to adjust the amount of Keillor’s monetary award until October and an expected decision by state workers’ compensation officials.