Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stanislaus County: County tries to get Smith lawsuit thrown out again

by Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator - March 19, 2012
Stanislaus County is seeking once again to dismiss a federal civil rights lawsuit that Councilwoman Annette Smith filed against the county, after she sought to reverse the findings of a Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury report that called for her dismissal.

A six-page dismissal motion that the county filed Friday, March 16, states that Smith’s Feb. 28 amended complaint failed to meet court timelines, did not name any county workers who violated her rights and did not allege any local government policy that led to the alleged civil rights violations.

In citing a federal court case from 2007, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombley, the county’s attorneys assert that Smith must “give the defendant a fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” The documents also state that the grand juries are arms of the court and not part of county government.

Smith’s amended complaint labels grand jury members as county employees.

“Grand jury members are as a matter of law considered to be employees of the County of Stanislaus and were so employed at all relevant times,” Smith’s court documents state. “Grand jury members are compensated on a daily basis by the County of Stanislaus, receive parking permits, office keys, access to a copy machine, access to email and access to a grand jury library to compensate them for services provided.”

Smith’s original complaint filed in federal Court in October was dismissed Jan. 26 because it was too vague, according to U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill.

A hearing regarding the county’s motion for dismissal is set for April 17 at the U.S. District Court Eastern Division Department courthouse in Fresno.

Smith has requested that the names and testimony of anonymous witnesses used to compile the grand jury report be published. She is also seeking a revised grand jury report and attorney fees. She has said she is not seeking personal monetary damages from the lawsuit.

The grand jury’s report stated that Smith failed to recuse herself from a vote regarding developer John Ramos’ legal fees while she had a financial relationship with him and stated that Ramos had written off expenses for Smith in the past. It also criticized Smith for allegedly confronting a resident in a supermarket parking lot and using abusive language. The report stated further that she pressured city staff to fire former City Manager Cleve Morris and former Community Development Director Rod Simpson.

The report called for Smith’s ouster, by either citizen recall or her resignation.

The grand jury also recommended that former Mayor Becky Campo pay back money she received as mayor because she allegedly lived outside city limits. It further stated that the city should file a complaint with the California State Bar to chastise former city attorney George Logan for alleged improprieties, such as failing to be in the room when the council voted to reimburse Ramos for $27,000 in legal fees.

The grand jury advised that Ramos return that money to the city and admonished Councilman Dominic Farinha for open-meeting violations.

Smith has alleged that the grand jury received false testimony that resulted in false claims without properly investigating the facts. Her suit states that the grand jury “consciously refused to consider exonerating evidence including (Smith’s) testimony and others” and was out to “destroy the reputation of (Smith).”

• Nick Rappley can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 31 or nick@pattersonirrigator.com.

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