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City's Lawyer Sues Over Penalty

Costa Mesa's attorney contends his suspension last year was illegal. He alleges slander, age bias and infliction of emotional distress.

September 17, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

The Costa Mesa city attorney, who normally defends the city against lawsuits, has himself sued the city, saying he was illegally suspended by the City Council for unexplained reasons.

Jerry Scheer, the city attorney since 1999, sued two current and two former council members, alleging slander, infliction of emotional distress, age discrimination and wrongful suspension.

His attorney, Dan Stormer, said, "Everything that he's worked for, his reputation, his career, has been taken away through some mean-spirited an unlawful decision-making."

Scheer is seeking unspecified damages for lost wages, vacation and retirement benefits, medical bills and mental and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages and other costs. The lawsuit was filed Sept. 8 in Orange County Superior Court.

Melanie Poturica, managing partner of the firm the city has hired to handle the suit, said she believed the parties were trying to resolve the dispute out of court.Stormer said his client has had a spotless record with the city since 1986, when he was hired as a deputy city attorney. He was promoted to assistant city attorney in 1990 and named city attorney in 1999.

Two years later, a senior deputy city attorney, Marianne Reger, filed a formal grievance with the city, saying she was a victim of sexual discrimination by Scheer, who had hired her.

An independent counsel and investigator concluded that Reger's allegations were essentially without merit, according to Scheer's lawsuit.

Scheer, 63, alleges that several months later, in September 2002, City Manager Allan L. Roeder and council members Gary Monahan and Karen Robinson requested a closed session to discuss a personnel matter without identifying the city attorney as the subject.

Scheer said he was asked to leave the meeting and believes that they then discussed various complaints and allegations against him without notifying him. After the closed session, according to his lawsuit, Scheer was handed a letter stating he was being put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

According to the lawsuit, he was ordered to relinquish his city keys and entry cards, prohibited from accessing city files, and "perhaps most insulting," told to stay at home from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., although he was free to leave during the lunch hour.

He was told several days later that an internal investigation and financial audit of the city attorney's office was being conducted by council members Libby Cowan and Karen Robinson, according to court papers.

The suspension and investigation were reported in local newspapers, which, the lawsuit says, contained false and defamatory statements.

Scheer says in his suit that he met several times with council members and discussed his work performance but was not told, when he asked, why he was suspended.

"They released information to the local press that indicated that he was implicated in improper and potentially illegal actions," Stormer said, "but he's never really learned what those actions were."

A month later the council reinstated Scheer, and he returned part time Oct. 7, even though his doctor told him he was suffering from severe emotional distress, according to the lawsuit.

When he returned, he said that he was locked out of his computer and that co-workers ignored him out of fear of retaliation. About two weeks later, after receiving a letter demanding that he work full time or resign, Scheer went on sick leave.

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