Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Deputies Win Hearings Over Unpaid Suspensions

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Sheriff's deputies who beat felony charges received a mixed bag from a federal judge as they challenge their unpaid suspensions.

Darrin Wilkinson, David Sherr, Lisa Brown Debs and Sean O'Donoghue each faced felony charges while working as deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Wilkinson faced nine felony counts of falsifying police reports, while Debs faced drunken driving charges. In both cases, the charges were dropped.

A jury acquitted Sherr of seven counts of workers' compensation insurance fraud, perjury and grand theft. Likewise, O'Donoghue was found not guilty of two counts of falsifying a police report, three counts of accessory after the fact to possession of narcotics for sale, one count of perjury and one count of false imprisonment.

While these charges were pending, the sheriff's department suspended each deputy without pay.

All four requested post-suspension hearings before the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission, but that body delayed their hearings until resolution of the criminal proceedings and disciplinary action by the sheriff's department.

After the deputies had won their cases - but before they had been granted suspension hearings - the sheriff's department fired them. All four then requested hearings to challenge dismissal.

The commission next denied post-suspension hearings to Wilkinson and Sherr because the Los Angeles County Employee Retirement System had granted them disability retirement, and it said it did not have jurisdiction over retired employees.

Post-suspension hearings did not favor Debs and O'Donoghue. While hearing officers in both cases recommended reinstatement, the full commission upheld the suspension of Debs and ordered a reconsideration for O'Donoghue that never happened.

The deputies subsequently sued several officials and supervisors in the Central District of California.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausne dismissed the case, but a divided panel of the 9th Circuit partially reversed in August 2011.

Though the court found that the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commissioners had immunity, it green lit claims against sheriff and county supervisors. The ruling said these officials had a constitutional mandate to provide post-suspension procedures for suspended deputy sheriffs who later retired.

Sherr and Wilkinson won hearings on remand, but Debs and O'Donoghue lost their case since they already received hearings.

"It is hard to imagine what further measures could be practicably implemented to further reduce the risk" of erroneous deprivation, Klausne wrote Friday. "Indeed, any such measures would certainly overburden government resources with minimal gains in the protection of an employee's interest in continued employment."

Klausne also dismissed Sherr and Wilkinson's due process claims aimed directly at Sheriff Leroy Baca.

"Aside from the conclusory allegation that Baca participated in the decision to discipline, plaintiffs have not alleged any additional facts, made any arguments, or introduced any evidence of Baca's direct involvement in the decision-making process," the 10-page order states. "Therefore, Wilkinson's and Sherr's claims against Baca as a direct actor fail. Plaintiffs have not introduced any evidence as to an affirmative link between Baca's action or inaction, and the failure of defendants to provide hearings. Nor have plaintiffs introduced any evidence showing that Baca was callously indifferent to their rights."

Finally, Klausne found his court lacked jurisdiction to rule on a writ from the deputies stating that the L.A. County's Civil Service Commission abused its authority in dismissing the appeal.

Noting that the petition "presents an altogether different set of issues that requires consideration of entirely different facts and law," Klausne said that it was "in no way related" to the due process action.

"As such, there is no basis for supplemental jurisdiction, and jurisdiction by this court of plaintiffs' writ petitions exists only if there is some independent basis for federal jurisdiction," Klausne wrote. "There is no such independent basis."

The deputies can pursue these claims in a state court, the ruling states.

County officials must provide Wilkinson and Sherr with a post-deprivation hearing on their suspensions within 90 days, and similarly situated deputies should receive such hearings within six months, the judge added.

Neither Sherr or Wilkinson will get back pay or medical expenses since they failed to tie such allegations to the defendants, according to the ruling.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.