Jurors won't consider the most provocative of sexual harassment claims when they begin deliberating today whether Stanislaus County owes a former sheriff's clerk "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
At the close of a monthlong trial, Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson on Tuesday decided to tell jurors they must wipe from their minds Lydia Lopez's testimony that former sheriff's drug agent Bill Pooley urged on-the-job sex and put her hand to his crotch on Christmas Eve 2004.
Jurors will decide if sheriff's management protected and promoted Pooley, who subsequently was elevated to police chief in Riverbank, while punishing Lopez until she quit in frustration.
Johnson nearly threw out the groping allegation a week ago at the request of attorneys representing Pooley and the county, because Lopez failed to report her story for 2½ years. But defense attorneys changed their minds in order to attack Lopez's credibility with many of the 16 witnesses they've questioned since.
For example, custodian Chris Martinez said Friday that he did not work on the holiday in question, contradicting Lopez's testimony that Pooley backed away when Martinez came into the room. And Pooley testified Thursday that he had been transferred from the drug unit two weeks before and was not on duty at the time Lopez claimed the incident happened.
Jurors heard both sides. But this morning, Johnson will tell them to forget the whole thing, he said Tuesday with jurors outside the courtroom.
Still in the record are Lopez's claims that Pooley in 2006 whispered an oral sex come-on, leered at her, commented on her legs and verbally fantasized about intercourse after he was promoted to sergeant.
Pooley steadfastly denied all of those allegations. His attorneys have painted Lopez as a liar in search of a tax-funded payday, while her attorneys say the single mother struggled valiantly against a formidable good-old-boys network.
Witnesses included Sheriff Adam Christianson, who essentially said his loyalty to Pooley made irrelevant the results of an investigation into Lopez's claims. Christianson demoted Lopez instead of firing her, as recommended by a disciplinary board.
On Tuesday, sheriff's Capt. Tim David acknowledged that Capt. Bill Duncan, Pooley's father-in-law, was a member of that board. The demotion order included a reassignment for Lopez to the county jail, a task presided over by Duncan.
David said Lopez violated department policy by accessing, on a special computer, information regarding her husband's gang buddies on the first day after she was assigned to the jail. She would have been punished if she hadn't quit, David said.
Sheriff's Detective John Rivera said the computer gave Lopez access to sensitive information such as names and addresses of law enforcement officers and witnesses involved in a violent assault that landed Paul Lopez, a Norteño "shot-caller," behind bars. "If leaked into the gang structure, that's invaluable and can be turned back to the street for retaliatory purposes," Rivera said.
But Rivera turned up no evidence, he said, that Lydia Lopez leaked any such information in the five months that he monitored Paul Lopez's mail, telephone calls and chats with visitors. The surveillance ended when Lopez was sent to state prison for a term of 27 years to life in December 2007, the same month Lydia Lopez filed her lawsuit.
Before his transfer, Lydia Lopez visited him 21 times, Rivera said.
Rivera said he also found that Lydia Lopez had two Social Security numbers. He notified federal officials, noting that he was unsure whether she profited from them or had been an identity theft victim.
Monitoring Paul Lopez's calls produced an interesting conversation with his mother in which they questioned Lydia Lopez's lawsuit, Rivera said. He noted this in a report, Rivera acknowledged, because it could affect Lopez's credibility in her claims against Pooley, whom Rivera called his friend.
While deliberating, jurors are expected to focus on Lopez's claim that the department refused to accommodate her depression disability as required by law. Experts on both sides have given conflicting opinions.
Attorneys are scheduled to deliver closing arguments today at 9:15 a.m. in Department 23 at 801 10th St., Modesto.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.