Former Public Defender Sues County
Claims CEO Mike Brown Made for Difficult Workplace
Former Santa Barbara County public defender James Egar filed a lawsuit against the county and Chief Executive Officer Mike Brown last Friday, alleging Brown threatened him, screamed and swore at him, and spit in his face, among other things. The suit lists 13 complaints, including assault, battery, negligent hiring, training, retention, and supervision, as well as multiple violations by Brown of the California Employment and Housing Act. The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.
The two sides had recently been in discussions trying to work out a deal, but the county wouldn’t sign a tolling agreement, which would have put on hold a statute of limitations for the period of time Egar could have filed suit. The matter was up for discussion during a closed session meeting at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting May 15, though county officials won’t relay the details of the meeting. Egar’s attorney Janean Acevedo Daniels speculated the meeting was to discuss whether or not to sign the tolling agreement.
The suit claims that after Egar allegedly repeatedly asked for help in the public defender’s office because of a burdensome caseload leading to employee sickness and burnouts, Egar was allegedly subjected Brown’s “hostile and abusive tirades in which he became visibly angry and red-faced, yelled, screamed and swore” at Egar, spit at Egar and “verbally disparaged, insulted and threatened” Egar in “an intimidating manner.” Brown also on occasion, according to the suit, would remind Egar that his predecessor was fired.
Egar brought his concerns to some of the board members, complaining that Brown was creating an intimidating work environment. According to the suit, “several” of the supervisors admitted they were aware of other employee reports of Brown using “offensive, intimidating and harassing behavior and comments,” and that they almost led to Brown being terminated.
Also outlined in the suit is Egar’s request to return to Orange County a “short period of time, not to exceed a few days,” in order to earn enhanced retirement benefits. In lieu of that, Egar could have also left altogether for a permanent, higher-paying salary, which Brown, in a June 2005 meeting, objected to, allegedly offering to hire two new full-time attorneys to help with the “oppressive” case load, as well as to eliminate the parity of salaries between the public defender’s office and the district attorneys office. According to the suit, Brown reneged on the agreement not long after.
Egar resigned July of last year, with his resignation letter, sent just two days before he quit, citing an “untenable set of conditions” which made it impossible to continue in his job. He moved north to become the public defender for Monterey County. “I do not take this step willingly or lightly,” Egar wrote to Brown.
Brown has been mum about the suit since it was filed, but Supervisor Brooks Firestone, in a statement released Thursday afternoon, said the county will “vigorously defend itself against this suit.” He added, “I have the utmost confidence in the professionalism and competence of our Chief Executive Mike Brown and expect the matter will be settled quickly.” Comments from county spokesman William Boyer have been similar. Supervisor Salud Carbajal, while he wouldn’t say much because the issue is a personnel matter, did offer up the following “All allegations should and will be investigated with due diligence. We have that responsibility to all parties.”
The county – and Daniels – has been through the process before. Back in 2001, former Human Resources Director Ann Goodrich, represented by Daniels, filed a lawsuit, and settled with the county for $900,000. In the suit, Goodrich claimed she was fired in retaliation for complaining about remarks made by Brown in a speech in which he referred to the concept of peace-loving Muslims as “bunk.” The comments are also addressed in Egar’s suit. Brown claims he has been misunderstood. Goodrich also claimed she was operating in a hostile work environment. After the Goodrich case, the county should have gotten rid of Brown, Daniels said – “This thing with Egar didn’t need to happen.” Instead, the board of supervisors extended his contract, which is good through 2009.