Ventura County supervisors have agreed to settle for $340,000 a Camarillo businesswoman's claim that she was threatened and harassed after a county lawyer accidentally gave his jailed client her telephone number and address.
Yvette Lopez and her 14-year-old daughter were forced to enter a witness protection program and move out of the county as a result of repeated harassment by the jailed man, his girlfriend and an acquaintance, said County Counsel Frank Sieh.
Lopez was targeted by Timothy Thomas because he had robbed her Oxnard insurance firm in January 2002 and Lopez, then 35, was expected to provide eyewitness testimony at his trial, court papers allege.
Thomas got the woman's home phone number and address from his lawyer, Deputy Public Defender William Rutan, who had inadvertently left with Thomas a copy of a police report with Lopez's home phone and address on it, documents allege.
Thomas wrote a threatening letter to Lopez from jail, Sieh said, and Thomas' girlfriend and another acquaintance confronted Lopez at her insurance firm and made more threats.
Sieh, the county's primary legal counsel, called it "a really ugly case."
"This went on for a while," he said. "She ultimately went into the witness protection program, sold her home and businesses and moved away."
Law enforcement officials realized what had happened when they searched Thomas' cell and found the police report, court documents say.
Public Defender Ken Clayman said it is his department's policy to blacken out any personal information on victims or witnesses when meeting with clients. But this document somehow slipped through, Clayman said.
"It was obviously a mistake and is clearly regrettable," he said.
Rutan, a veteran defense lawyer, received "appropriate" discipline and is still on the job, Clayman said.
Sieh said the disclosure was a mistake that could have happened to anyone.
"It's just something that happens inadvertently if you are not careful about redacting a report," Sieh said. "It's just in this case, it had some rather severe consequences for the victim."
Thomas is being prosecuted for harassment, Sieh said, and his girlfriend and the acquaintance have already been convicted of similar charges.
Thomas, who pleaded guilty to the robbery charge, is still in state prison, he said.