DA's office faces suit claiming whistleblower retaliation, disability discrimination

Prosecutor alleges he repeatedly urged superiors to drop charges against innocent man

DA's office faces suit claiming whistleblower retaliation, disability discrimination

In a recent case, a resigned public prosecutor claimed whistleblower retaliation and disability discrimination on the part of the district attorney’s office after he expressed his worries about an innocent man being prosecuted for murder.

In Ross v. The Superior Court of Riverside County/County of Riverside, the petitioner, who was a prosecutor in the homicide unit of Riverside County District Attorney’s office, was assigned to a murder case filed against Roger Parker in 2011. The petitioner reviewed the case file and found insufficient evidence to prosecute Parker for murder.

In 2013, the petitioner found evidence exonerating Parker, including DNA evidence. An investigator with the DA’s office obtained a witness interview that identified Parker’s roommate as the murderer and a jailhouse recording where the roommate confessed to the crime. The petitioner claimed that he repeatedly tried asking his superiors to drop Parker’s charges, but these attempts failed.

Also in 2013, the petitioner started experiencing severe neurological symptoms, which were attributed to a concussion syndrome. He asked his supervisors to stop assigning him to more murder cases until the completion of his medical evaluations, but this request was refused.

The DA’s office transferred the petitioner to the filing unit. Later, the office put him on administrative leave and prohibited him from returning to work without a doctor’s note.

The petitioner asked for advice from the president of the Riverside County prosecutors’ union. The union president told him that the doctor’s note requirement breached his rights under the memorandum of understanding between the union and the DA’s office. Thus, the petitioner told the DA’s office that his union rights were being violated.

In 2014, after almost four years in custody, Parker’s charges were dropped and he was released.

The petitioner resigned upon realizing that the DA’s office had effectively terminated him. In a suit against Riverside County, he alleged that the DA’s office, under the direction of the former district attorney, demoted him and refused to accommodate his medical issues.

Read more: California court calls for further proceedings in suit claiming whistleblower retaliation

The petitioner subpoenaed the union president. He sought a deposition about the president’s communications with certain unidentified County lawyers and about the advice he had offered to the petitioner. The County filed a motion to quash the subpoena based on the rule exempting government agency heads and other top government executives from deposition unless there are compelling reasons.

The trial court granted the County’s motion to quash. It found that the union president’s alleged communications with the unidentified lawyers were irrelevant to the petitioner’s retaliation and discrimination claims and that the petitioner could acquire from other sources the evidence he needed.

The petitioner filed a petition for a writ of mandate so that the trial court would vacate its decision. The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, Division One partly granted and partly denied the petition.

The petition was denied with respect to evidence regarding the union president’s role in advising the petitioner about his union rights because the petitioner failed to show that he could not obtain such evidence from sources other than the union president, who was the sitting district attorney, the appellate court ruled.

The petition was granted in relation to evidence about the unidentified County lawyers’ alleged requests that the union president alter his testimony regarding the ethical character of the former district attorney, the appellate court held.

Such evidence would be relevant to show the concerns about the past district attorney’s credibility and about the County’s consciousness of guilt, the appellate court said. The union president waived attorney-client privilege, assuming that such privilege was applicable, by voluntarily disclosing a significant attorney-client communication to a third party.

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