STOCKTON – District Attorney James Willett retaliated against an investigator, making San Joaquin County liable to pay the former employee more than $2 million, according to a jury’s verdict in federal court.
A civil jury rendered the verdict Monday and ordered the county to pay $513,382 in lost wages and benefits and $1.5 million for general pain and suffering.
Janis Trulsson, an ex-assistant chief investigator for the county prosecutor’s office, alleges the agency promotes a culture of gender discrimination and that she was targeted for bringing attention to the issue.
Trulsson said Willett orchestrated a plan to keep her from moving into the position vacated by then-Chief Larry Ferrari because she had filed an internal discrimination complaint saying a fellow colleague – a female deputy district attorney – was demoted and assigned an unfair workload.
The chief post was later given to a male investigator.
“All assistant chiefs prior to Trulsson were promoted to chief,” said Trulsson’s trial brief.
“She is the first one in the history of that office,” said Trulsson’s attorney, Sacramento-based Jill Telfer. “She is more decorated than any other law enforcement officer in that DA’s Office.
“Now her whole career, an amazing career, is just a box in her garage. She was really just disheartened.”
The lawsuit also claimed discrimination, but the jury voted 5-2 against finding the county liable on that claim.
County Counsel Kristen Hegge said that while the county respectfully disagrees with the jury’s retaliation finding, “we are pleased that the jury rejected the plaintiff’s primary argument that there is a history and culture of gender discrimination in the District Attorney’s Office.
“We also contend that the damage award is excessive and unjustified by the facts,” Hegge said. “However, when any case is presented to the jury, there is the risk of an excessive damage award.”
In her attempt to show discrimination, Telfer called on the testimony of several female attorneys, investigators and former supervisor, Barbara Kronlund, now a Superior Court judge.
“(Kronlund) developed concerns about the lack of ability to promote by women,” Telfer said.
Trulsson’s trial brief said that when Kronlund was employed by the District Attorney’s Office, she had complained to her union about a disparity in benefits and pay.
“Within hours, Willett went to Kronlund and said, ‘if you want a future with this office, you will drop this,'” Trulsson’s trial brief says.
The county argued that Willett, who then was assistant district attorney, does not recall saying that to Kronlund. He likely told her that the district attorney at that time – John Phillips – would not be thrilled.
“Willett was concerned that Kronlund would end up on D.A. Phillips’ bad list,” the county trial brief said.
The jury was unanimous in the retaliation verdict, Telfer said.
Telfer said Willett admitted during a deposition that he didn’t consider Trulsson for the promotion because she filed the discrimination complaint.
Trulsson’s career spanned three decades in local law enforcement, having spent time as a Lodi police auxiliary officer and as an investigator with the county Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.
In court documents, Willett refuted the claims against him, saying he supported Trulsson on past career advancements.
Willett said he had stalled on eliminating Trulsson’s job until “drastic budget cuts” hit the agency in 2011.
The county argued in court that although the assistant chief position is training and grooming ground for chief, the move up isn’t automatic and lies at the discretion of the district attorney.
“Loyalty to the D.A. is paramount, among other qualities,” said the county’s trial brief.
The county’s brief also said Trulsson asked Willet to request funding for her assistant chief job for one more year or to request service credits for 31 years for retirement.
Willet considered it but in the end decided not to ask for a “golden handshake” retirement for Trulsson, and instead asked the county to fund two lower-ranking investigator positions to do legwork for attorneys, the county brief said.
The county plans to review the case for possible appeal issues and further action, Hegge said.