Despite Roberts’ settlement, legal costs continue for county

Despite Roberts’ settlement, legal costs continue for county
Although the Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $310,000 to settle claims filed against District 3 Supervisor Dave Roberts, seen here during his 2012 swearing in ceremony, the county’s legal expenses associated with allegations have not yet ended. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

REGION — Although the Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $310,000 to settle claims filed against District 3 Supervisor Dave Roberts by three former staff members, the county’s legal expenses associated with allegations have not yet ended.

The county continues to provide defense counsel to at least one claimant, who is being sued by another staffer whose attorney said he has no plans to drop the case.

“They say it’s going to cost over $1 million to defend so we have to settle,” Harold Meza’s lawyer, Dan Gilleon, said. “It’s a very, very convenient analysis. But they’re doing the polar opposite in terms of Harold Meza.”

Between April and June, Glynnis Vaughn, Diane Porter and Lindsey Masukawa resigned from Roberts’ office and subsequently filed claims, a move which is the precursor to a lawsuit, seeking nearly $1.1 million in compensation.

They accused their former boss of, among other things, misusing county resources, creating a hostile work environment, having an unprofessional relationship, though not sexual, with Meza, campaigning on county time and bribery.

The other four supervisors previously rejected severance payments to Vaughn and Porter based on Roberts’ commitment to settle the matter without the use of county funds.

But after “careful consideration,” according to a statement released Sept. 5, they “determined that it is in the best interest of taxpayers to settle (the) claims.”

They also stated that if lawsuits were filed the county would be required to pay for Roberts’ defense at a cost of possibly more than $1 million.

“In addition, we believe it is unlikely we would prevail on all three claims,” they said in the statement.

In June Meza filed a lawsuit against Vaughn and Porter, accusing them of creating a hostile work environment by “embarking on a smear campaign,” spreading “despicable rumors,” calling him names and allegedly criticizing his job performance, saying “no one knows what you do” and “no one trusts you.”

The allegations of the inappropriate relationship stem from a work trip during which Roberts and Meza were assigned to the same room by the water authority, which hosted the visit.

Roberts, a gay married man with six adopted foster children, said everyone on the trip was assigned to a room with another person of the same gender. He said he and Meza did not share a bed.

Gilleon said if the county is going to use the cost-of-defense strategy to settle three claims, they should do the same for his client.

“Where’s that same thinking when it comes to Harold?” Gilleon asked. “They use that excuse whenever it’s convenient. I just think that the Republican supervisors chose to settle these cases because it would make Roberts look bad.”

Roberts is the first new face on the five-member board since 1995 and the lone Democrat.

Gilleon said based on documents and requests for information he has received, Joe Kutyla, the attorney hired by the county for Meza’s lawsuit, “made it clear he is going to work this case to the bone … and spend county money aggressively to defend this case at all costs.”

“Hypocrisy explodes at the County,” Gilleon noted in a recent online post.

Gilleon said the case could drag on for at least a year unless a settlement offer is received.

 

“I’m willing to talk to him,” Kutyla said. “He has my number. … He can call me and explain the merits of his case and why the county should pay (Meza) money.

“So far he hasn’t done that,” Kutyla added. “The way I see I, it would have to be increased by a factor of 10 to the 120th power just to make frivolous. (His case) is so small it would get thrown out of small-claims court.”

Meza has not specified how much he is willing to settle for but Gilleon said it likely wouldn’t be more than what Vaughn, Masukawa and Porter received.

It has been reported that Vaughan, who was seeking $475,000, will receive $150,000.

As Roberts’ chief of staff she “was required by law and by County policy to bring matters of material concern occurring in that district office to the appropriate administrators of the County,” Vaughn’s attorney, Lynne Lasry said.

“This included an obligation to report issues of concern raised by those she supervised which related to the conduct of Supervisor Dave Roberts,” Lasry said, adding that her client “appreciates the board’s willingness to revisit her formal claim, to resolve it, and to move forward.”

Masukawa, Roberts’ one-time policy adviser who asked for a minimum of $10,000, will be paid $120,000.

Her attorney, Helen Zeldes, said her client “is pleased to have this matter behind her so she can move forward with her life.  “

“Ms. Masukawa appreciates the county’s investigation and recognition that she was forced to resign due to ‘inappropriate pressure from the supervisor’ and that her allegations were found to be credible,” Zeldes added.

Porter, Roberts’ former scheduler who sought $250,000, will receive $40,000.

In a statement released after the settlement was announced, Roberts said, “When my Chief of Staff retired after 22 years in that position, the transition to a new Chief did not go as well as I expected and I take full responsibility for that.  Now that the settlement has taken place, we are moving forward.

“While I strongly oppose the action taken … by a majority of the Board of Supervisors, I respect my colleagues’ right to make such a decision,” the statement continues.  “I have said consistently that no taxpayer funds should be used to resolve these issues.

“It is unfortunate that they occurred, but they are now behind us.  My staff and I will continue to work hard delivering results for the people of the Third District as I have strived to do since my first day in office.”

Mel Millstein, Roberts’ new chief of staff, did not respond by email when asked if his boss considered repaying the county.

 

This story has been modified since its original posting.

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