CNS – Judicial Council Sued by Clerk in Fed Court
A longstanding scrap between a court clerk and one of two judges in a rural courthouse in California has spilled into an unusual federal lawsuit against the judge and the overall court administration in California.
The court clerk in Lassen County, in the northeastern section of California, filed a complaint last week in U.S. District Court in Sacramento against Superior Court Judge Tony Mallery as well as the California Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
In Lassen County, with a population of 32,000, Barone has been working in the courthouse for almost twenty years, while Mallery was elected to his judgeship just three years ago.
In her complaint, the clerk says that since the judge was sworn-in, he has refused to acknowledge her authority and continually refers to her simply as “B.”
The 34-page complaint says the judge altered court documents, heard cases without files or an attorney present, intimidated, belittled and badgered female employees and ordered the staff “to perform acts forbidden by the code of ethics.”
His behavior included “yelling, ranting, and raising his fists.”
The complaint added that the judge was “pulling court case files from the filing area and going through various court files in violation of long-established court file-handling protocols designed to protect the integrity of all case files.”
In addition, says the complaint, the judge hugged a defendant in open court.
Mallery and other officials at the superior court did not respond to interview requests this week. A spokesman for the judicial council also declined comment.
In the three years the judge has been on the bench, the clerk has submitted 30 reports on his behavior to various officials, including members of the Judicial Council staff, formerly known as the Administrative Office of the Courts.
“Plaintiff submitted a written report to AOC Administrative Director Martin Hoshino notifying him of ongoing issues that had arisen since Defendant Mallery assumed the bench,” said the complaint.
“To plaintiff’s knowledge, neither defendant superior court nor any of the other judicial branch entities have taken any effective remedial action, and defendant Mallery’s misconduct continues.”
Mallery attended the private Cal Northern School of Law in nearby Chico and was admitted to the bar in 2000. He is a longtime Lassen County resident and ran a private practice with his wife Tami prior to running for an open seat on the superior court bench in 2012.
While Mallery initially fell short in the county primary, the unexpected death of another candidate elevated him to the November runoff.
He took the place of candidate John Nakanishi who died on Father’s Day in a rafting accident on the Truckee River. In November he then beat out Lassen County District Attorney Bob Burns and earned a spot on the bench in his home town county.
“I look forward to working with this community to give something we can all be proud of,” Mallery said, addressing the crowd after being sworn in. “There’s no reason why this courthouse can’t be the place we all rejoice about in this community.”
The clerk’s attorney, Mary-Alice Coleman, said in an interview that her client’s whistle blowing had no effect, as Mallery’s behavior deteriorated over time.
“She attempted to bring the issues to everyone in the judicial system,” Coleman said. “It seems that there is no person or entity that has the power to take control.”
Coleman said she’s never tried a similar case in court and that a court employee suing a sitting judge is uncommon. The lawyer said she was not sure whether the defendants would be represented by county counsel or private attorneys.
Mallery is one of two judges in Lassen County Superior Court, in Susanville, in far northeast California, 215 miles northeast of Sacramento. The court has just 24 employees.
The presiding judge is Michele Verderosa who was appointed by Judge Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2012, the same election that put Mallery into office.
Coleman said the small size of the court in effect amplifies the effect of the judge’s conduct.
“The impact is exceptionally larger in a smaller court,” Coleman said.
The effects of the judge’s conduct were particularly felt by the court’s female employees, according to the complaint. Several asked to stop clerking for the judge, two reported migraine headaches and other stress-related symptoms while working for him and one employee was sent to a hospital emergency room.
After three years of formal complaints, said Coleman, the clerk finally secured a meeting with a representative for the Judicial Council in January, but the discussions led nowhere. So, on behalf of Barone, Coleman filed a federal action for retaliation against a whistleblower and discrimination under Title VII. The complaint asks for both compensatory and punitive damages.
The lawyer concluded, “We want someone to finally consider serious action.”