– San Benito County District Attorney John Sarsfield filed a
claim against the county Friday seeking more than $5 million in
damages and charging the Board of Supervisors with a host of civil
crimes stemming from the handling of a sexual harassment lawsuit
filed in 2004.
Hollister – San Benito County District Attorney John Sarsfield filed a claim against the county Friday seeking more than $5 million in damages and charging the Board of Supervisors with a host of civil crimes stemming from the handling of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in 2004.
The claim, the first step in filing a formal lawsuit against the county, alleges Sarsfield suffered emotional distress and bodily injury as a result of the county’s actions. It also accuses the Board of Supervisors of fraud, malpractice, defamation, invasion of privacy, breach of contract and civil rights violations, among other crimes.
Supervisors denied the accusations.
“This is the lowest point in politics in San Benito County,” Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz said Monday. “I think Mr. Sarsfield needs a mental evaluation.”
Sarsfield declined to comment on the claim directly.
“The Board of Supervisors violated the law and they will be held to account,” Sarsfield said.
In 2004, Victim Witness Department employees Katie Fancher and Julie Roybal filed a sexual harassment suit against the county. They alleged Sarsfield was having an affair with his office manager that created a hostile work environment, and that he behaved in an “openly rude and contemptuous manner” toward women in the office. The county settled the suit in 2005 for $35,000. A month after the lawsuit was settled, portions of a confidential pre-mediation document, including a summary report sustaining several of the allegations in the lawsuit, was leaked to the press. The report sustained allegations that Sarsfield “openly engaged in a romantic relationship with his office manager” and retaliated against four employees in his office because he perceived them as a “threat to his administration.”
In the claim, Sarsfield alleges the Board of Supervisors forced him to settle the 2004 sexual harassment suit. Sarsfield further alleges that after the harassment suit was settled, Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz and other unknown county employees illegally leaked details of the settlement agreement to the press. He also claims the county refused to investigate the source of the leak or defend him in the lawsuit. The Board of Supervisors ordered an investigation into the leak, but it was inconclusive.
In his claim, Sarsfield singled out De La Cruz for allegedly “publicly discussing and publishing and assisting to be published details of the confidential settlement agreement.” Sarsfield and his attorney, Terence Mayo, say these alleged actions amounted to a breach of contract and invaded his privacy.
The claim also goes further, alleging that De La Cruz’s actions were retaliation for Sarsfield’s prosecution of the supervisor in a political corruption case. Sarsfield claimed the county had an obligation to defend him in the sexual harassment case and failed to do so, sticking him with a $14,000 bill afterward. The legal filing goes on to allege that the Board’s “public discussion and comments regarding the terms of the settlement” were “designed to vex, annoy or harass” and were done with “actual malice.” Sarsfield claims this was retaliation against him by board members he had investigated.
In his claim, Sarsfield alleges that the county further defamed him in 2006, when they voted 4-1 that they had “no confidence” in the prosecutor’s ability to carry out the duties of his office. During the “no confidence” hearing, Sarsfield alleges the Board of Supervisors defamed him “by accusing him of professional negligence.”
The claim seeks damages of more than $5 million for the alleged offenses on the basis that it damaged his reputation, among other things.
“The Board’s actions also violated (Sarsfield’s) right to liberty, in that they adversely impacted his professional standing and reputation, and have harmed (Sarsfield’s) future earnings capability,” the claim stated. “The actions of the County also caused (Sarsfield) to suffer extreme physical and emotional distress, and negatively impacted (Sarsfield’s) physical health, and created a hostile work environment.”
Mayo, the San Francisco attorney representing Sarsfield, declined to comment directly on the claim.
“I don’t know what else I can add, except that there is probable cause for the claim,” he said.
Supervisor Reb Monaco, who is singled out in the claim for allegedly obstructing Sarsfield’s prosecutorial efforts, declined to comment on the claim. Supervisor Pat Loe also declined to comment on the claim.
De La Cruz said Sarsfield was “just blowing a lot of hot air.”
Supervisors Anthony Botelho and Don Marcus could not be reached for comment by press time on Monday.
The county has 60 days to respond to the claim, by either affirming or rejecting it. If the claim is rejected, Sarsfield said he plans to file a formal lawsuit against the county.
Brett Rowland covers public safety for the Free Lance. He can be reached at 831-637-5566 ext. 330 or [email protected]