State court agency has paid more than $800,000 since 2010 to settle legal claims, records show
The California state court system has paid out $645,410 in legal settlements alleging sexual harassment and discrimination by judges and court officers over the past eight years, new information from the Judicial Council shows.
Of that amount, $348,750 went to settle five claims based on sexual discrimination and $296,660 to settle sexual harassment allegations. The council also has paid $160,000 to settle three claims that did not deal with either sexual harassment or discrimination, but involved expenditure of public funds. With those included, the total payouts the state court system has made to settle employment claims since 2010 comes to $805,410.
The 64 pages of records released after a request from the San Diego Union-Tribune were heavily redacted, blacking out names of some of the judges involved in some claims and all details of the allegations that underlay the claims.
In May, the Judicial Council changed its records-access rules to allow for the release of settlement agreements for which public funds were spent that involved judges or judicial officers. Previously, all such information was confidential under court rules.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye called for a change in the rule in the wake of the #MeToo movement’s push for more accountability for sexual harassment and media inquiries seeking information on court payouts.
The Judicial Council had paid out the $296,660 to settle harassment complaints against three judges.
A $120,000 settlement in 2016 with Tulare County Superior Court Judge Valeriano Saucedo was previously reported publicly. The newly released documents also show a $150,000 settlement in 2013 for a case involving an unidentified employee in Santa Clara Superior Court and an unidentified judge, as well as a $26,660 settlement in 2016 from Alameda Superior Court, again between an unidentified employee and judge.
The judges are not named because the settlement agreements are between the individual and the court. The revised rule does not call for disclosure of the judge if he or she is not named in the agreement.
Discrimination complaints included a 2015 payout of $150,000 for a female employee in Tehama County Superior Court alleging gender discrimination and retaliation. The agreement includes a release of all claims against the court and a Judge John Garaventa, who retired in 2017.
Lassen County settled a claim for $135,000 filed by a man against Judge Michael Verderosa and former court official Andi Barone for unlawful termination. El Dorado Superior Court also paid $36,250 to an unidentified male employee who filed claims against Judge Suzanne Kingsbury (the presiding judge at the time in 2015) and now-retired judges Steven Bailey and James Wagoner.
San Bernardino Superior Court paid $25,000 in 2016 to an unidentified woman to settle a gender discrimination claim. Alpine Superior Court paid $2,500 to settle a discrimination claim from a woman.
In addition, the council released three settlements of claims that it said did not involve sexual harassment or discrimination. Redactions make it difficult to discern what the disputes were about, however. Alameda Superior Court paid $175,000 to an unidentified man and Santa Barbara Superior Court paid $55,000 to an employee, both in 2017. The record of the third payout, of $30,000 in 2015 from Shasta Superior Court, will be released July 16, lawyers for the council said.
Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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