Attorney alleges juror misconduct in suit against Nevada County Sheriff’s Office | TheUnion.com

Attorney alleges juror misconduct in suit against Nevada County Sheriff’s Office

A Nevada County judge is set to rule on whether there was juror misconduct in a weeks-long civil trial where the jury found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Sheriff's Office.

The attorney for former Sheriff's Office employees Yvonne and Bill Evans filed a motion for a new trial, claiming that one of the jurors failed to disclose her friendships with employees of the Sheriff's Office who were fellow church members during jury selection, made statements during deliberations in the jury room that demonstrated a bias and failed to deliberate due to having a bias.

The juror "formed her opinion prior to deliberations, and may have unfairly influenced the thinking of other jurors by announcing her biased views," Kerry Schaffer wrote in a memorandum supporting his motion.

According to Schaffer, other jurors believed she had made up her mind prior to deliberations and had a "very negative demeanor" in her references to Bill and Yvonne Evans.

Schaffer argued the juror said she believed people who work for the Sheriff's Office were good people, and that other jurors took this statement as an adamant refusal to consider a guilty verdict and a refusal to deliberate.

The lawsuit filed by Schaffer alleged that Yvonne Evans was retaliated against, charged with embezzlement and eventually fired, after complaining of sexual harassment by then-Undersheriff Richard Kimball. The suit further claimed that her husband, Lt. Bill Evans, was forced to retire after being subjected to an internal affairs investigation and a fitness-for-duty evaluation.

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During the trial, Kerry Schaffer painted the Sheriff's Office — from Sheriff Keith Royal on down — as engaging in a conspiracy to discredit his clients. Schaffer put the price tag for their economic losses, pain and suffering at about $4.75 million.

Nevada County's attorney, Carl Fessenden, argued it might be true Yvonne Evans complained about harassment and was fired, but there was no connection between the two events. Bill Evans, he said, retired of his own free will.

The jury found that Yvonne Evans engaged in a protected activity — complaining of sexual harassment — and that she suffered an adverse action, her termination. But they did not believe her termination was retaliatory. In Bill Evans' case, the jury found he was not forced to retire. At the time, Schaffer noted the verdict was not unanimous.

During a hearing Thursday on the motion for a new trial, Fessenden told Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson there was no objective evidence of misconduct.

According to the county's attorney, the juror did not intentionally conceal any bias because Schaffer never asked her whether she knew anyone in the Sheriff's Office. Fessenden said the statement about Sheriff's employees being "good people" was ambiguous and taken out of context, adding that it was made in response to an accusation that evidence had been planted.

The standard by which a judge can overturn a verdict is "pretty high," Fessenden said, adding that high bar is there for a reason.

"There is no evidence of prejudice," he argued. "That juror did participate in deliberations."

After the hearing, Anderson took the matter under submission and said he would issue a ruling by Monday.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.