Appeals court upholds ruling, new trial in Nevada County Sheriff’s Office wrongdoing suit
A civil suit alleging wrongdoing within the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office dating back to 2011 is back on track after the appellate court affirmed a local judge’s ruling of juror misconduct.
On Tuesday, The Third District Court of Appeal issued a ruling affirming Nevada County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson’s ruling tossing the verdict in a civil lawsuit filed by former Sheriff’s Office employee Yvonne Evans and her husband, former sheriff’s Lt. Bill Evans. The appellate court agreed with Anderson’s finding that a juror failed to disclose friendships with sheriff’s employees, showed a bias and discussed character evidence not presented during trial.
The lawsuit filed in 2015 alleges that Yvonne Evans was retaliated against, charged with embezzlement and eventually fired after complaining of sexual harassment by then-Undersheriff Richard Kimball. The suit also claims that Bill Evans was forced to retire after being subjected to an internal affairs investigation and a fitness-for-duty evaluation.
Kerry Schaffer, the attorney for Yvonne and Bill Evans, alleged Sheriff Keith Royal and members of his staff engaged in a conspiracy to discredit his clients, putting the price tag for their economic losses, pain and suffering at about $4.75 million.
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The lawsuit went to trial in 2018, lasted six weeks and included dozens of witnesses offering around 90 hours of testimony. The jury found no evidence of retaliation or wrongful termination in a 9-3 verdict.
But Anderson granted a motion for a new trial after finding that one of the jurors failed to disclose friendships with Sheriff’s Office employees or their spouses during the jury selection process. She also reportedly made statements during deliberations that demonstrated a bias in favor of Sheriff’s Office employees, and she introduced information — character evidence — not presented during the trial.
The county’s attorney, Carl Fessenden, filed an appeal of Anderson’s ruling with the Third Appellate District in Sacramento. The appellate court heard oral argument telephonically on Friday and issued its ruling Tuesday. In the ruling, the appellate court found that Anderson did not abuse his discretion and found the juror in question made statements that manifestly reflected a bias in favor of the Sheriff’s Office.
The court found that the juror should have disclosed her association with members of the Sheriff’s Office during jury selection, writing, “The nature of the case and substance of the questioning should have promoted Juror No. 8 to disclose her connections to the sheriff’s department and attendant belief that its members are ‘all good people.’” It also found there was substantial evidence to support the determination that she refused to deliberate.
Schaffer noted the bar for an appeal is set very high and it is difficult to overturn rulings in general. Fessenden could not be reached for comment.
The case will now be returned to the trial court and a case management conference would be scheduled to set a trial date, unless the county’s attorney files for reconsideration or asks the state Supreme Court to hear the appeal, Schaffer said.
“I can’t imagine it would be heard before next year,” he said, citing the current shutdown of the courthouse because of the coronavirus. “We’ll see what happens.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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