A majority of jurors on Thursday rejected Lydia Lopez's claims that she was sexually harassed by a superior at the Sheriff's Department.
Lopez, 36, of Ceres also failed to persuade jurors that Stanislaus County managers refused to accommodate her depression or that they retaliated against her after she reported alleged advances by ranking officer Bill Pooley.
Pooley, now chief of police in Riverbank, and his wife arrived at the courthouse after Thursday's verdict was read, ending a five-week, high-interest trial with 28 witnesses. Pooley, 40, hugged his lawyers and supporters but refused to comment.
Outside the courtroom, Lopez, a single mother accompanied by one of her two children, wore a tired smile but said she had no regrets. "I would do it again," she said.
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She sought $490,000, saying she was forced out of her sheriff's clerking job and faced homelessness while Pooley was protected and promoted.
Lopez would have had to sway nine of the 12 jurors, evenly split by gender, to win any of her claims against Pooley and the county. Most sided with the defense by wide margins on all counts.
Jurors Catherine Pabalan and Elizabeth Rodriquez said they and many others on the panel believed much of Lopez's story, but a majority did not think she presented enough evidence to win. Rodriquez said she believes the "Sheriff's Department was in cahoots" and "covering for each other."
Attorney Morin Jacob, representing Pooley and the county, said her camp was "very happy with the verdict." Reading a prepared statement, Jacob continued, "This proves what we've maintained throughout the entire case: the county, the sheriff's office and Bill Pooley were not at fault."
Defense attorneys painted Lopez as a rebellious employee faking a disability and soiling the reputation of a good man while seeking a substantial tax-funded payout. Several witnesses spoke of Lopez's husband, a Norteño gang leader serving a life prison term.
Lopez's attorney, Jeffery Hubins, portrayed sheriff's management as coldly loyal to brass, willing to destroy a depressed victim to cover up lurid office come-ons. Lopez testified that Pooley forced her to grope him while suggesting on-the-job sex.
"It's not easy proving a high- ranking officer did something of that nature," Hubins said.
Lopez said, "The whole thing was a roller coaster." She didn't appreciate the defense's constant attacks on her character, she said.
'Credibility was an issue'
Pabalan said that strategy was effective. Lopez's "credibility was an issue," Pabalan said, though she was among three jurors who voted to hold Pooley liable for sexual aggression.
Rodriquez, also among the three, sided with Lopez on all counts, but was the only juror to do so. She hugged Lopez outside the courtroom.
It was easy for Rodriquez to see why Lopez waited 2½ years, she said, to report the groping incident, which the judge instructed jurors to discount on Wednesday.
"I felt like she was intimidated by the badge. That's why she didn't say anything," Rodriquez said.
Pabalan voted with the majority, against Lopez, on all other counts. Two other men voted in favor of Lopez on some counts, but Lopez did not sway more than three jurors to her side on any individual claim.
For example, 11 answered "no" when asked if Lopez proved she had a disability. Pabalan said jurors asked Judge Hurl Johnson for legal clarification on disabilities while deliberating.
The majority "gave (Rodriquez) a fair chance to air why she felt that way," Pabalan said, but few sided with Lopez.
No other jurors were willing to comment on the verdict, which was handed up about 5 p.m. Thursday. They had begun deliberating that morning.
Both sets of attorneys faced off last year on another case, Hubins' camp representing three other female sheriff's employees or former employees and Jacob's team representing the county. But that discrimination case ended just before a fall trial date when the county agreed to pay $545,000, without admitting wrongdoing.
Jacob was asked if she regretted that settlement on Thursday, having beaten Hubins in court. She refused to answer.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.