REGION — An aide to 3rd District County Supervisor Dave Roberts dropped his lawsuit against two of his former colleagues, bringing to a legal end a months-long scandal that cost taxpayers more than $350,000.
Dan Gilleon, the attorney for Harold Meza, said his client dismissed the lawsuit in papers filed Oct. 19 for a variety of reasons.
“Harold had already cleared his name,” Gilleon stated in an email. “Before he sued, Meza was known as the ‘young male barista’ having an affair with his gay boss. After filing, he was known as the political aide aggressively fighting back against ugly, false, and manipulative accusations.
“Also, when Harold realized that the Republicans, including Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar who is running for Roberts’ seat, would continue exploiting his lawsuit to mindlessly smear his boss during a campaign, Harold decided it was best to remove that weapon from their arsenal,” Gilleon added. “Again, in his mind, he had already won on June 11, when he cleared his name and reputation by filing his lawsuit.”
In June, Meza sued Glynnis Vaughn and Diane Porter, accusing them of creating a hostile work environment by “embarking on a smear campaign,” spreading “despicable rumors” and calling him “just a barista” because he once worked at Starbucks.
He also claimed they criticized his job performance, saying “no one knows what you do” and “no one trusts you.”
His lawsuit was in response to claims made by Vaughn and Porter, Roberts’ former chief of staff and scheduler, respectively.
They both resigned earlier this year and subsequently filed claims against the county, accusing 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 Board of Supervisors initially rejected severance payments requested by Vaughn and Porter based on Roberts’ commitment to settle the matter without the use of county funds.
But after “careful consideration,” according to a Sept. 5 statement, they “determined that it is in the best interest of taxpayers to settle (the) claims,” including a third one filed by Roberts’ former policy adviser, Lindsey Masukawa.
Supervisors 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.
After the settlement was announced, Gilleon said Meza had no plans to drop his lawsuit, noting that if the county was going to use the cost-of-defense strategy to settle three claims, they should do the same for his client.
Because Vaughn and Porter worked for Roberts when Meza’s allegations took place, the county was required to pay for their defense. Generally in-house counsel would have been used but to avoid any conflict of interest, attorney Joe Kutyla was hired.
Gilleon said Meza would consider a settlement but he never specified an amount.
“I sent Gilleon a standard request for evidence in July,” Kutyla said, adding that he never received a response. “I don’t know how many times I asked him to disclose evidence.
“Gilleon sent an email to me asking for a dismissal two days before he was required to turn over evidence that my clients created a hostile work environment,” Kutyla said. “He wanted a dismissal because he had no evidence.
“Harold Meza filed his lawsuit to make the claims go away,” he added. “He was a little soldier in Dave Roberts’ one-man army. This is all about timing. Once the claims were settled, Meza’s lawsuit had no purpose.”
According to the terms of the dismissal, Meza will not be required to reimburse the county for Kutyla’s approximately $44,300 in legal expenses. Meza agreed not to sue anyone else, including Roberts. Meza will receive no money.
“He doesn’t deserve any money because his case was worthless,” Kutyla said.
Meza owes no legal fees to Gilleon.
“I was honored to represent Mr. Meza pro bono and achieve justice so swiftly,” Gilleon stated in his email. “Some people and their lawyers snark at the notion that ‘it’s not about the money,” but Harold and I don’t roll our eyes at principle.”
Mel Millstein, Roberts’ chief of staff, said the supervisor’s office “will not be commenting on personnel or litigation matters.”
As for his clients, Kutyla said Vaughn and Porter “are done.”
“They are exhausted from this whole thing,” he said. “They’ve been vindicated. They never want to hear the names Dave Roberts or Harold Meza again. They just want to move on.”