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O.C. assessor is cleared in race-bias lawsuit

Jurors find that two promotion-seekers were equally qualified and color was not an issue. Some also say workplace seemed dysfunctional.

February 06, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

A jury on Monday rejected a claim that Orange County Assessor Webster J. Guillory, the only African American holding countywide office, discriminated against a white employee by promoting a less qualified black co-worker.

After deliberating less than two days, the jury concluded race was not an issue in Guillory's decision to promote Brian Ennis instead of Ronald Cooper and found the men equally qualified.

"We determined race was not a motivating factor," said juror Raul Reynoso, 23, of Buena Park.

Asked what evidence he found most compelling to support that verdict, he said: "All of it."

The unanimous verdict capped a two-week trial that included allegations that Guillory manufactured some personnel records and hid others when he learned Cooper would challenge his decision.

The assessor denied the allegations, but Superior Court Judge David A. Thompson ordered his office to produce all documents about the promotion after one of them, listing Cooper's interview scores, could not be located, and its existence was disputed by the county.

That led to a dramatic courtroom scene when Cooper found one of the missing documents when he rummaged through a legal binder belonging to Guillory's lawyer while the judge, jury and attorneys were outside.

Cooper, a senior auditor-appraiser who has been with the department for 29 years, sued the county in December 2005 after he was passed over for promotion for the job of managing auditor in favor of Ennis, who had worked there 14 years.

Cooper scored higher than Ennis when interviewed by a panel weighing the promotion, but the county maintained that Ennis scored higher in a subsequent one-on-one interview with Guillory.

Cooper said the records supporting that assertion were falsified and produced records he said showed that he scored higher than Ennis in the Guillory interview.

The jurors did not believe the allegations about record-tampering. "We found no evidence of a cover-up," said juror Larry Herrera, 20.

Cooper said he was disappointed with the verdict but that he would return to work after taking a few days off to "let the dust settle."

Guillory, in a telephone interview, said only that he was pleased with the verdict. During the trial, Guillory testified that he concluded Cooper was a "negative negative" for the position, finding him "destructive in the workplace."


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