San Diego County costs for sex-misconduct lawsuits against ex-deputy exceed $4.6 million

Richard Fischer is taken into custody in court.
Former sheriff’s deputy Richard Fischer was taken into custody in 2019 after being sentenced to 44 months in jail. He served five months.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The criminal case against Richard Fischer all but ended in May, when the former San Diego County sheriff’s deputy who had pleaded guilty to a spate of sexual misconduct charges was released after five months after being sentenced to 44 months in custody.

But the civil cases filed by many of his victims persist — and San Diego County taxpayers are picking up the tab.

According to documents obtained under the California Public Records Act, San Diego County has settled 12 separate lawsuits for just over $4 million. Lawyers for the county continue to litigate eight others.


In addition to the millions of dollars San Diego County is paying to close out civil cases, the county is paying for Fischer’s legal defense.

Private attorney Joseph Kutyla has been paid more than $570,000 over the last three years to defend the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the former deputy, who was accused of groping and sexually assaulting at least 16 women, many of them while he was on duty.

County officials said they had no choice but to outsource the legal work.

“Because conflict of interest rules prevent County Counsel from representing both the county and Deputy Fischer, the county has retained independent counsel to advise and defend Deputy Fischer,” spokesman Michael Workman said by email.

Fischer, now 35, was arrested on suspicion of committing eight felonies and six misdemeanors in February 2018, three months after women began filing civil claims against the Sheriff’s Department alleging that the deputy groped or fondled them.

According to the criminal complaint, the former deputy improperly touched at least 12 women he came in contact with during the course of his work shifts.

In some cases, he pulled over women driving alone and hugged them against their will. In others, he victimized women who had called 911 for help and stopped by their homes days or weeks later, ostensibly to check on them, prosecutors said.


One victim who had been pulled over by Fischer said the deputy fondled her breasts.

“Fischer said, ‘Oh I hope your husband doesn’t mind,’” the woman’s lawsuit stated.

In another legal claim, the deputy allegedly fondled a woman after learning her driver’s license had been suspended.

“I apologize if it seems like I’m holding your hands but you’re just so hot,” the claim quotes Fischer, saying he held the woman’s hands behind her back. The suit says he groped her through her clothes while commenting on the shape of her body.

Fischer, who pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges at his initial court appearance, did not respond to a request for comment on the civil cases.

After his arraignment, his attorney issued a public statement saying the allegations were “wholly inconsistent with who Mr. Fischer is” and he looks forward to clearing his name.

But the evidence and potential penalty — up to 14 years in state prison — proved daunting. In September 2019, Fischer pleaded guilty to four felonies and three misdemeanors involving sexual misconduct with 16 women.

None of the criminal violations was charged as a specific sex crime.

Fischer was able to reduce his prison time to a maximum of five years, and he avoided being required to register as a sex offender.


He was sentenced to 44 months in jail in December 2019 but was released in May. Prosecutors said Fischer was eligible for specific credits for time served made available to defendants who qualify.

But the damage Fischer inflicted on the community and the Sheriff’s Department did not stop when he was sent to jail.

Although four of the civil lawsuits filed against the deputy and his employer were settled in May 2018 for a combined $906,000, most were stayed by a Superior Court judge during the length of the criminal proceedings.

Since then lawyers for the county and Fischer’s accusers have examined evidence, taken a series of depositions and engaged in settlement discussions on a case-by-case basis.

Last April, the county agreed to pay $225,000 to a woman identified as Jane Doe No. 2, who said she was victimized by Fischer. Two more settlements were reached in August, with the county paying a combined $966,250 to those plaintiffs.

The county paid $375,000 to a woman identified in court papers as C.M. in October and settled cases in December with three other victims for a total of $1,260,000.


Between May 2018 and the middle of this month, Kutyla has been paid just under $574,000 to defend Fischer in the civil lawsuits filed against the former deputy and the county.

Kutyla declined to comment on the ongoing litigation but said he has successfully represented his client.

“Mr. Fischer has been dismissed as a defendant in five of the civil lawsuits filed against him, and a sixth K-9 case in federal court, and the county has made settlement offers in many of the remaining cases,” he wrote in an email.

But attorney Dan Gilleon, who filed many of the cases against Fischer and San Diego County, criticized Kutyla for his handling of the lawsuits.

“Mr. Kutyla has single-handedly eviscerated any good will Fischer had garnered by admitting his crimes,” he said. “Mr. Kutyla has proved to my clients that Fischer’s guilty plea was pure theater, designed to earn him a soft landing and short stay at the county jail.”

Gilleon said the lawsuit defense strategy so offended several clients they now refuse to settle.


“Thanks to Mr. Kutyla, my clients now want their pound of flesh,” he said.

Kutyla declined to respond specifically to the criticism but touted his decades of experience.

“I have represented public entities and employees since I passed the bar in 1982,” he said. “I have successfully represented employees of the county of San Diego, including social workers, law enforcement and a deputy district attorney, since roughly 2000.”

Just before his release from custody, Fischer was sued by one of his former lawyers, Manuel Medrano, for alleged breach of contract, court records show.

The same documents show Fischer is representing himself in that litigation and that he is living in the Los Angeles County community of Walnut, just outside Diamond Bar. A hearing in the case is scheduled for next week.