New trial motion granted in Nevada County Sheriff’s Office suit | TheUnion.com

New trial motion granted in Nevada County Sheriff’s Office suit

A Nevada County judge has granted a motion for a new trial in a civil suit alleging retaliation and wrongful termination of two employees by the Nevada County Sheriff's Office.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson had presided over the weeks-long trial that ended with jury finding no evidence of wrongdoing in a 9-3 verdict.

But Kerry Schaffer, the attorney for Yvonne and Bill Evans, filed the motion to vacate the verdict due to juror misconduct.

In a ruling issued Monday, Anderson agreed, granting the motion for a new trial and setting a hearing to set a new trial date on July 30.

“Other jurors observed that (she) presented an adamant refusal to consider plaintiffs’ argument and a refusal to deliberate.”

— Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson, in ruling

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The lawsuit 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.

Schaffer alleged the Sheriff's Office — from Sheriff Keith Royal on down — engaged in a conspiracy to discredit his clients, putting the price tag for their economic losses, pain and suffering at about $4.75 million.

During a hearing on the notion for a new trial, the county's attorney, Carl Fessenden, argued there was no objective evidence of misconduct or of prejudice.

Anderson disagreed, after taking the matter under submission.

In his ruling, Anderson noted that to find misconduct, the court must determine whether the affidavits supporting the motion are admissible; whether the facts establish misconduct; and whether the misconduct was prejudicial.

One of the jurors allegedly engaged in misconduct because she failed to disclose friendships with Sheriff's Office employees or their spouses, who were fellow church members, 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 juror admitted she knew her fellow church members to be "good people," and then clarified the statement by saying she was referring to all Sheriff's Office employees. "She also stated that her opinion of the Sheriff's Office employees was a heavy factor in her decision," Anderson wrote.

While the juror stated she barely knew those employees, it is not disputed that she did not disclose that fact during jury selection, Anderson wrote. She admitted in a declaration that she believed those employees were good people.

"Other jurors observed that (she) presented an adamant refusal to consider plaintiffs' argument and a refusal to deliberate," Anderson wrote.

Anderson also found the misconduct was prejudicial, creating a substantial likelihood of bias that impacted the deliberation process. If that juror had been disqualified during jury selection, he added, a different verdict could have been reached.

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