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This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 06/16/2019 at 20:14:12 (UTC).

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION DEPT VS LA COUNTY CIVIL SER

Case Summary

On 08/08/2017 COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION DEPT filed an Other - Writ Of Mandamus lawsuit against LA COUNTY CIVIL SER. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judge overseeing this case is AMY D. HOGUE. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.

Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****0524

  • Filing Date:

    08/08/2017

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Other - Writ Of Mandamus

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Stanley Mosk Courthouse

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judge

AMY D. HOGUE

 

Party Details

Plaintiff and Petitioner

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION

Defendant and Respondent

LOS ANGELES COUNTY CIVIL SERVICE

Interested Party

JENNINGS YOULANDA

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff and Petitioner Attorney

BALDERRAMA WILLIAM ESQ.

Defendant and Respondent Attorney

LEWIS EDWIN A.

Interested Party Attorneys

LAW OFFICE OF STEPHEN A. MADONI

MADONI APLC STEPHEN

 

Court Documents

Minute Order

1/19/2018: Minute Order

NOTICE OF CHANGE OF AFLDRESS OR OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION

3/13/2018: NOTICE OF CHANGE OF AFLDRESS OR OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION

MEMORANDUM OF POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN SUPPORT OF COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION DEPARTMENT'S PITITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

5/30/2018: MEMORANDUM OF POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN SUPPORT OF COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION DEPARTMENT'S PITITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

REAL PARTY IN INTEREST YOULANDA JENNINGS' MEMORANDUM OF POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN OPPOSITION TO PETITIONER'S PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

7/12/2018: REAL PARTY IN INTEREST YOULANDA JENNINGS' MEMORANDUM OF POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN OPPOSITION TO PETITIONER'S PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

REPLY BRIEF OF COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION DEPARTMENT IN SUPPORT OF IT'S PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

7/27/2018: REPLY BRIEF OF COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION DEPARTMENT IN SUPPORT OF IT'S PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

NOTICE OF LODGING OF ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD

7/27/2018: NOTICE OF LODGING OF ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD

Notice of Case Reassignment and Order for Plaintiff to Give Notice

11/6/2018: Notice of Case Reassignment and Order for Plaintiff to Give Notice

Notice of Change of Address or Other Contact Information

11/30/2018: Notice of Change of Address or Other Contact Information

Order

12/3/2018: Order

Minute Order

3/8/2019: Minute Order

Order

3/8/2019: Order

Minute Order

5/17/2019: Minute Order

Minute Order

12/1/2017: Minute Order

RESPONDENT LOS ANGELES COUNTY CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION'S NOTICE OF NO BENEFICIAL INTEREST IN OUTCOME

11/21/2017: RESPONDENT LOS ANGELES COUNTY CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION'S NOTICE OF NO BENEFICIAL INTEREST IN OUTCOME

REAL PARTY IN INTEREST YOULANDA JENNINGS' VERIFIED ANSWER TO PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

9/6/2017: REAL PARTY IN INTEREST YOULANDA JENNINGS' VERIFIED ANSWER TO PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

NOTICE OF TRIAL SETTING CONFERENCE & ATTACHED ORDERS THEREON

8/16/2017: NOTICE OF TRIAL SETTING CONFERENCE & ATTACHED ORDERS THEREON

SUMMONS

8/8/2017: SUMMONS

PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

8/8/2017: PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

7 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 05/17/2019
  • at 09:30 AM in Department 86; Trial Setting Conference - Held - Continued

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  • 05/17/2019
  • Minute Order ( (Trial Setting Conference)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 04/10/2019
  • at 09:32 AM in Department 86; Hearing on Petition for Writ of Mandate - Not Held - Advanced and Vacated

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  • 03/08/2019
  • at 08:30 AM in Department 86; Hearing on Ex Parte Application (for Order to Vacate the Briefing Schedule, Continue Date for Hearing, set Status Conference) - Held

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  • 03/08/2019
  • Minute Order ( (Hearing on Ex Parte Application for Order to Vacate the Brief...)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 03/08/2019
  • Ex Parte Application (Ex Parte Application for Order to Vacate the Briefing Schedule, Continue Date for Hearing, set Status Conference); Filed by COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION (Plaintiff)

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  • 03/08/2019
  • Order (Order Granting Ex Parte Application); Filed by COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION (Plaintiff)

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  • 12/03/2018
  • Order (Interlocutory Order on Petition for Writ of Administrative Mandate); Filed by COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION (Plaintiff)

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  • 11/30/2018
  • Notice of Change of Address or Other Contact Information; Filed by YOULANDA JENNINGS (Real Party in Interest)

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  • 11/06/2018
  • Notice of Case Reassignment and Order for Plaintiff to Give Notice; Filed by Clerk

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20 More Docket Entries
  • 11/21/2017
  • Notice; Filed by LOS ANGELES COUNTY CIVIL SERVICE (Defendant)

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  • 09/27/2017
  • Proof-Service/Summons; Filed by COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION (Plaintiff)

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 09/27/2017
  • Proof-Service/Summons; Filed by COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/06/2017
  • REAL PARTY IN INTEREST YOULANDA JENNINGS' VERIFIED ANSWER TO PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

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  • 09/06/2017
  • Answer; Filed by Real Party in Interest

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  • 08/16/2017
  • Notice of Trial Setting Conference and Attached Orders Thereon; Filed by Clerk

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  • 08/16/2017
  • NOTICE OF TRIAL SETTING CONFERENCE & ATTACHED ORDERS THEREON

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 08/08/2017
  • PETITION FOR WRIT OF ADMINISTRATIVE MANDATE

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  • 08/08/2017
  • SUMMONS

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  • 08/08/2017
  • Petition; Filed by null

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: BS170524    Hearing Date: September 18, 2020    Dept: 86

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES PROBATION DEPARTMENT v. LOS ANGELES CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION (JENNINGS)

Case Number: BS170524

Hearing Date: September 18, 2020

[Tentative] ORDER DENYING THE WRIT PETITION


Petitioner, County of Los Angeles Probation Department (Petitioner or Department), requests a court order compelling Respondent, Civil Service Commission of the County of Los Angeles (the Commission), to set aside its decision reducing the penalty imposed on Real Party, Youlanda Jennings, from a discharge to a 30-day suspension.

Jennings opposes the petition.

After an initial hearing on the writ petition on August 17, 2018, the court remanded the matter to back to the Commission, pursuant to Topanga Assn. for a Scenic Community v. County of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 506, to clarify the reasons for the penalty imposed without taking new evidence.

Following remand, on January 15, 2020, the Commission revised its Conclusions of Law and adopted as its Final Order a finding the appropriate level of discipline for Jennings was a 30-day suspension.

The Department filed a supplemental brief in opposition to the Commission’s remand decision. Jennings filed a supplemental opposition.

The petition is denied.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

The Background of the Allegations:

Jennings began working for the Department as a transportation deputy on March 29, 1993. (AR 366.) On July 15, 2013, Jennings and her acquaintance, Stanley Williams, rented a motel room at the Motel 6 in San Bernardino. (AR 253.) On or around July 24, 2013, law enforcement issued an arrest warrant for Williams. (AR 207-208.) On July 25, 2013, the San Bernardino Police Department (SBPD) executed the search warrant at the motel. (AR 208.) SBPD found Jennings alone in the motel room upon entering. (AR 208.) Detectives Bonshire and Luna interviewed Jennings who informed them that Williams was at a place called, “The Tree,” which was near the American Legion Hall on Highland Avenue. (AR 208.) Detective Bonshire responded to that location and was able to arrest Williams. (AR 208.) On July 26, 2013, Jennings reported her contact with SBPD to her supervisor, Sandra Collins, through a form affidavit. (AR 394-395.)

Administrative Investigation:

Sandra Collins forwarded Jennings’ affidavit to Internal Affairs (IA) and subsequently (IA) initiated an investigation into the incident. (AR 268.)

On September 9, 2013, IA investigator Michelle Simpson interviewed Stanley Williams. (AR 496.) Williams advised Simpson he and Jennings stayed at Motel 6 because he had been accused of a crime and “the people who . . . alleged the crime . . . were threatening [him].” (AR 498.) Williams stated he had not discussed his criminal record or the fact that he had been to prison with Jennings. (AR 500.) When Simpson asked whether Jennings knew why Williams wanted to stay at the motel, Williams explained, “she knew there were some accusations made against [him], but she knew they were false too.” (AR 503.) Williams did not have any contact with Jennings after he was arrested. (AR 505-506.)

On June 19, 2014, IA issued a report concluding the following allegations against Jennings were substantiated: (1) relationship inconsistent with Department employment; (2) conduct unbecoming a peace officer; and (3) misuse of employee identification. (AR 267.)

On September 9, 2014, the Department issued Jennings a Notice of Discharge. (AR 361.) The Department discharged Jennings on the following grounds: (1) relationship inconsistent with Department employment; (2) conduct unbecoming a peace officer; (3) misuse of employment identification; and (4) failure to exercise sound judgment. The Department found Jennings’ conduct violated the following Departmental policies:

Probation Departmental Manual (Manual) No. 601 – Introduction: Employees of the Probation Department shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the professional standards governing County employment, and the stated expectations of the Chief Probation Officer. As a member of the law enforcement community, Probation Department employees have a duty to the public to adhere to exemplary moral and ethical standards, and to project a professional image at all times. These standards apply to both on and off duty conduct. (AR 362, 527.)

Manual No. 614 – Use of Employee Identification: Use of the Departmental badge, identification, letterhead, or business cards is strictly and solely limited to the scope of official duties. They are not to be used in any private matter to seek specific benefit, considerations, or other advantages. (AR 362, 528.)

Manual No. 617 – Relationships Inconsistent with Probation Department Employment: Probation Department employees shall not knowingly establish or maintain any personal, social, or business associations with identified criminal, street, or prison gang members or organizations, incarcerated individuals, registered sex offenders, and/or felons who are on parole or formal probation, unless expressed written permission is received from the employee’s Bureau Chief. The restriction against association does not apply to close family members defined as a grandparent, legal spouse, siblings, or any child for whom the employee is the parent, step-parent or legal guardian. (AR 362, 529.)

County of Los Angeles Employee Handbook – Ethical and Moral Standards: Integrity and accountability are key values in the County philosophy. Like responsiveness and professionalism, they are work behaviors needed to earn and maintain the public trust. Because we are in positions where public trust is granted, the public and our managers expect that they will be able to depend on what we say and do. They expect honesty and integrity from us at all times. (AR 362, 532.)

Civil Service Rule 18.031 – Discipline: Failure of an employee to perform his or her assigned duties so as to meet fully explicitly stated or implied standards of performance may constitute adequate grounds for discharge, reduction or suspension. Where appropriate, such grounds may include, but are not limited to, qualitative as well as quantitative elements of performance, such as failure to exercise sound judgment . . . Grounds for discharge, reduction or suspension may also include any behavior or pattern of behavior which is unbecoming a county employee . . . . (AR 362, 533.)

The Administrative Proceeding:

Jennings appealed the discharge and a hearing officer for the commission conducted a hearing on December 2, 2015 and March 29, 2016.

Detective Bonshire’s Testimony:

Detective Bonshire testified she obtained an arrest warrant and search warrant for Williams’ residence. (AR 610.) Subsequently, she and Detective Luna went to Williams’ house to attempt to contact Williams, but he was not there. (AR 610.) A neighbor told them that he was staying at the Motel 6 in San Bernardino. (AR 610.)

Detectives Bonshire and Luna proceeded directly to the Motel 6. (AR 610.) Detective Bonshire showed a picture of Williams to the cleaning staff at the motel and they informed her Williams was staying in Room 301. (AR 611.) Detective Bonshire then went to the motel office and obtained a copy of the hotel ledger which showed that Room 301 had been rented to Jennings and Jennings had received a 10 percent law enforcement discount. (AR 611.) After leaving the motel, Detective Bonshire wrote a warrant for the hotel room and asked one of the motel employee’s to inform her when Jennings or Williams returned. (AR 614.) The following day, Detective Bonshire received a call that Jennings had returned to the motel room. (AR 614.)

Detective Bonshire proceeded to the motel with a SWAT team. (AR 615.) When they entered Room 301, they discovered only Jennings in the room. (AR 616.) Detective Bonshire asked Jennings asked about Williams’ location. (AR 617.) Jennings responded he was “drinking with some friends, but she didn’t know where that was.” (AR 617.) Subsequently, Detective Luna spoke to Jennings and advised her that she “didn’t want to jeopardize her job by hiding . . . Williams.” (AR 617, 621.) While they were speaking, Jennings received a text message from Williams asking her to pick him up at “the Tree.” (AR 621.) Detectives Bonshire and Luna began to question Jennings about what “the Tree” was and where it was located. (AR 621.) Jennings informed them she was unable to give them directions, but she could take them there. (AR 621.) Thereafter, Jennings directed them to the location of “the Tree” where Detective Bonshire and the other officers arrested Williams. (AR 623.)

Jennings’ Testimony:

Jennings testified she first met Williams in 1980 when she was 12 or 13 years old. (AR 758.) Jennings lost touch with Williams when she got married in 1985. (AR 759.) Jennings’ husband passed away in 2011. (AR 759.) In the fall of 2012, Williams reached out to Jennings through Facebook. (AR 760.) Subsequently, Jennings and Williams began to talk on the phone. (AR 760.) Williams did not inform her he was a felon or that he had a criminal record or that he was a registered sex offender. (AR 761.) A couple of months later, Jennings’ relationship with Williams became more intimate. (AR 763.) Jennings saw Williams “three to four times a week” and stayed with him at his residence in San Bernardino. (AR 764.) In July 2013, Williams asked Jennings to stay with him at the Motel 6 because “someone broke into his house and he was receiving death threats.” (AR 767.) Williams explained he was receiving death threats because his daughter had accused him of inappropriate touching [“messing with them”]. (AR 767/801.)

On July 25, 2013, Jennings was with Williams at Motel 6. (AR 768.) They left the motel in the morning and Jennings dropped Williams off at “the Tree,” which was an area where retired veterans congregated, ate together, and played cards. (AR 768-769.) Jennings then returned to the couple’s room at Motel 6. (AR 770-771.) While she was in the room, six or seven police officers from the SBPD entered the room with their guns drawn and yelled, “freeze.” (AR 771.) Jennings testified she was “shocked” and “scared” because she had never been confronted by the police in this manner before. (AR 772.) Detectives Luna and Bonshire directed Jennings to the bathroom and began asking her about Williams’ location. (AR 773.) Jennings informed them she had dropped Williams off at the Tree, but she was not able to give them an address or exact directions. (AR 773.) Jennings then accompanied Detectives Luna and Bonshire to the Tree where they apprehended Williams. (AR 774-775.)

On cross-examination, Jennings clarified that Williams informed her on or around July 15, 2013 that his cousin and daughter were accusing him of inappropriate touching. (AR 801.) On July 18, 2013, Williams informed Jennings he was being questioned by the SBPD in connection with those allegations. (AR 790.) Jennings testified that she did not know Williams was under investigation at that point. (AR 790.) Jennings assumed Williams was merely being questioned concerning allegations which Williams assured her were false. (AR 790, 801.)

Administrative Decision:

On June 26, 2016, the hearing officer found Jennings violated Manual No. 601 by failing to “immediately disassociate with Williams upon learning of his criminal investigation” and violated Manual No. 617 by failing to “immediately end her relationship with Williams upon learning of the sexual allegations against him.” (AR 78-79.) However, the hearing officer found Jennings did not use her Departmental identification to “seek specific benefit or other advantage” in violation of Manual No. 614. (AR 78.) The hearing officer also determined Jennings’ violations did not merit discharge. (AR 79.) Thus, the hearing officer recommended reducing Jennings’ discharge to a 5-day suspension. (AR 79.)

On February 17, 2017, the Commission issued a proposed decision upholding the hearing officer’s findings but imposing a 30-day suspension. (AR 22.) On May 10, 2017, the Commission adopted the proposed decision as its final action and reduced Jennings’ discharge to a 30-day suspension. (AR 1-2.)

This writ petition ensued.

On August 17, 2018, this court heard argument on the Department’s petition. The court concluded the Commission’s decision did not have sufficient findings allowing this court to evaluate the penalty imposed. Accordingly, the court remanded the matter back to the Commission. The court’s remand order states in part:

“. . . an interlocutory order has been entered remanding this matter to the Commission to make additional findings . . . of fact and/or conclusions of law, or to clarify the findings of fact and/or conclusions of law, on which it relied for the penalty imposed in order to comply with Topanga Assn. for a Scenic Community v. County of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 506. On remand, the [Commission] shall not take new evidence.” (Order filed December 3, 2018.)

On remand the Commission found, “the violation of the no association rule and poor judgment rule found above does not merit discharge under all the circumstances.” It further found,

“The totality of circumstances as set forth in the Findings of Fact, specifically, [Jennings’] unblemished record with the Department as well as her cooperation with the [SBPD] by taking them to Williams to facilitate his arrest and the range of discipline allowed suggest the appropriate level of discipline is a 30-day suspension.” (Jennings’ Supplemental Opposition, Ex. A.)

The matter has returned to this court on the Department’s claim the Commission abused its discretion in reducing Jennings’ penalty from discharge to a 30-day suspension.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Department seeks relief through its petition pursuant Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5.

Under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5, subdivision (b), the issues for review of an administrative decision are: whether the respondent has proceeded without jurisdiction, whether there was a fair trial, and whether there was a prejudicial abuse of discretion. An abuse of discretion is established if the respondent has not proceeded in the manner required by law, the decision is not supported by the findings, or the findings are not supported by the evidence. (Code Civ. Proc. § 1094.5, subd. (b).)

The Department contends the Commission abused its discretion because its findings were not supported by the evidence[1] and the decision to reduce Jennings’s penalty constituted an abuse of discretion. On remand, the only issue before the court is whether the Commission provided sufficient factual findings to support its reduced penalty decision and whether that decision constituted an abuse of discretion.

“The propriety of a penalty imposed by an administrative agency is a matter vested in the discretion of the agency, and its decision may not be disturbed unless there has been a manifest abuse of discretion. [Citations.]” (Williamson v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance, (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 1343, 1347.) “[I]n reviewing the penalty imposed by an administrative body which is duly constituted to announce and enforce such penalties, neither a trial court nor an appellate court is free to substitute its own discretion as to the matter; nor can the reviewing court interfere with the imposition of a penalty by an administrative tribunal because in the court's own evaluation of the circumstances the penalty appears to be too harsh. [Citation.] Such interference . . . will only be sanctioned when there is an arbitrary, capricious or patently abusive exercise of discretion.’ [Citation.]” (Ibid. [emphasis original].) If reasonable minds can differ with regard to the propriety of the disciplinary action, there is no abuse of discretion. (See County of Los Angeles v. Civil Service Commission, (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 620, 634.)

The court conducts a “de novo comparison of the findings and the penalty” to ensure that the findings are not “inconsistent with [the administrative body’s] action in reducing the penalty,” resolving all reasonable doubts in favor of the administrative decision. (County of Santa Cruz v. Civil ServiceCommission of Santa Cruz (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 1577, 158)

ANALYSIS

The Department argues the Commission’s revised findings on remand do not explain why the Department is required to retain Jennings as an employee and the suspension penalty conflicts with the findings of law.

“The public is entitled to protection from unprofessional employees whose conduct places people at risk of injury and the government at risk of incurring liability.” (County of Santa Cruz v. Civil Service Commission of Santa Cruz (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 1577, 1582.) “[I]n the context of public employee discipline,” the “overriding consideration” is “the extent to which the employee's conduct resulted in, or if repeated is likely to result in, ‘harm to the public service.’ [Citations.] Other relevant factors include the circumstances surrounding the misconduct and the likelihood of its recurrence. [Citation.]” (Skelly v. State Personnel Board (1975) 15 Cal.3d 194, 218; County of Santa Cruz v. Civil Service Commission of Santa Cruz (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 1577, 1582.)

On remand, the Commission issued the following conclusions of law:

“1) The Department has met its burden in proving the allegations contained in its letter of 1, 2015, that Appellant violated The Probation Department Policy No. 601 Employee Conduct-Introduction which requires employees to conduct themselves with exemplary moral and ethical standards due to her failure to immediately disassociate herself from Williams upon learning of his being the subject of a criminal investigation by the San Bernardino Police Department.

2) The Department failed to meet its burden in proving the allegations contained in its letter of August 1, 2015, that Appellant violated the Probation Department Policy Manual No. 614 Use of Employee Identification which prohibits the use of Department identification to seek specific benefit or other advantage by using her Department identification to secure a discount at Motel 6.

3) The Department has met its burden in proving the allegations contained in its letter of August 1, 2015, that Appellant violated the Probation Department Policy No. 617 Relationships Inconsistent with Probation Department Employment which prohibits personal associations with various criminal categories without specific written opinion by nit [sic] immediately ending her relationship with Williams upon learning of the sexual allegations against him,

4) That the violation of the no association rule and poor judgment rule found above does not merit discharge under all circumstances.

5) The totality of circumstances as set forth in the Findings of Fact, specifically, Appellants unblemished record with the Department as well as her cooperation with the San Bernardino Police Department by taking them to Williams facilitate his arrest and the range of discipline allowed suggest the appropriate level of discipline is a 30-day suspension.”

(Jennings Supplemental Opposition, Ex. A.)

The Department argues Jennings’ actions—which violated of Probation Department Manual No. 601 (Conclusion of Law Number 1) [finding Jennings failed to immediately disassociate herself from Williams upon learning he was the subject of a criminal investigation] and Probation Department Manual No. 617 (Conclusion of Law Number 3) [finding Jennings did not immediately end her relationship with Williams upon learning of the sexual allegations against him]—constituted severe misconduct that violated the public trust. Moreover, according to the Department, the alternative penalty of suspension would contradict the Commission’s own factual findings. (Supplemental Brief 2:19-3:8.) Based on the foregoing, the Department contends no reasonable mind could disagree that the Commission’s own Findings of Fact establish that discharge, rather than a 30-day suspension, is the appropriate level of discipline.

Contrary to the Department’s argument, the court finds the factual findings are not inconsistent with the Commission’s conclusions of law. (Compare AR 23-25 with Jennings’ Supplemental Opposition, Ex. A.) The Department argues Jennings was culpable for more than merely failing to dissociate herself, but also Jennings “hid” Williams from authorities, and “interfered” with the criminal investigation. These factual findings are not supported by the Commission’s decision.

Moreover, even assuming the Commission made such findings of fact, while the Department may disagree with the Commission’s evaluation of the severity of Jennings’ misconduct, the findings and conclusion are not inconsistent as matter of law.

Additionally, the Department disagrees with the mitigating factors the Commission relied upon to issue the reduced penalty. Specifically, the Department argues Jennings did not cooperate with the Department because she only disclosed Williams’ location after the detective disclosed to Jennings that they knew she knew where Williams was hiding.[2]

Again, the Department appears to mischaracterize the Commission’s factual findings.

The Department discharged Jennings based on its finding that she “maintained an inappropriate association with a sex offender, assisted him in evading a police investigation, demonstrated conduct unbecoming a peace officer, and used [her] departmental position for personal gain, all of which reflect poor judgment.” (AR 367.) However, Jennings credibly testified (according to the Commission) that Williams never told her he had a criminal record or was a registered sex offender; moreover, Jennings was unaware there was ongoing criminal investigation against him and believed the allegations against him were false and part of scheme to blackmail him for his Veteran’s Association settlement. (AR 767-768, 776.) After Jennings was informed about Williams’ history on July 25, 2018, she proceeded to cut off all contact with him. (AR 505-506, 768.) The Commission found this testimony from Jennings credible. (AR 23-25, 74.)

The evidence in the administrative record does not support the Department’s conclusion that Jennings assisted Williams in evading a police investigation. Rather, the evidence shows Jennings assisted the SBPD in locating and apprehending Williams. (AR 766-776.)

The Department also argues the Commission omitted any consideration of the harm to the public service caused by Jennings.

In the supplemental opposition, Jennings argues that many of the cases that found an abuse of discretion in reducing the penalty imposed on a peace officer did so after making a finding of dishonesty or some other underlying character defect. (See e.g., Kolender v. San Diego County Civil Service Com. (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 716; Hankla v. Long Beach Civil Service Com. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1216; County of Los Angeles v. Civil Service Com. of County of Los Angeles (2019) 40 24 Cal.App.5th 871; County of Santa Cruz v. Civil Service Commission of Santa Cruz (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 1577.)

As argued by Jennings, the case here is distinguishable from cases that involved true character defects relating to dishonesty. Here, there was a single lapse of judgment in an otherwise unblemished service record. Further, the record shows after discovering the truth surrounding Williams’ criminal history and the allegations for which he was under investigation, Jennings cut ties with Williams completely and immediately cooperated. Based on this discrete incident of misconduct, Jennings actions to remedy her misconduct involving Williams, and the fact that such conduct appears unlikely to recur, the Commission adequately considered the harm to the public service.

Finally, the Department argues there is no discretion under its disciplinary guidelines upon a finding that Jennings associated with a prohibited person; under the Department’s guidelines, termination is required. (AR 537.) Thus, the Department suggests the Commission’s failure to follow the Department’s policy guidelines, which call for discharge for association with prohibited individuals on a first offense, is a de facto abuse of discretion by the Commission.

However, the law does not require the Commission to strictly adhere to the Department’s disciplinary guidelines. (Paulino v. Civil Service Com.

While reasonable minds might differ, given Jennings’ unblemished record and her cooperation once she was apprised of the complete facts surrounding Williams, the court finds the Commission’s penalty was not a manifest abuse of discretion and was not—as a matter of law—inconsistent with the findings of fact.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the petition is denied.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

September 18, 2020 ________________________________

Hon. Mitchell Beckloff

Judge of the Superior Court


[1] “ ‘It is well-established that an employer’s right to discipline or manage its employees . . . is not a fundamental vested right entitling the employer to have a trial court exercise its independent judgment on the evidence.’ [Citation.]” (County of Los Angeles v. Civil Service Com. (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 620, 633.) Thus, the Court is “required to utilize the substantial evidence test in reviewing the commission's decision.” (Ibid.) This means that, pursuant to section 1094.5, subdivision (c), the court decides whether substantial evidence supports the administrative findings—rather than whether the weight of the evidence supports the findings.

[2] The Department does not cite to the administrative record for this fact.

[3] Moreover, it appears under the guidelines a 30-day suspension is the most severe penalty other than discharge. (AR 536-538.)

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