For several years, rumors swirled about an ever-widening rift between Lassen County’s two superior court judges — Michele Verderosa and Tony Mallery. Verderosa was appointed to the bench Oct. 18, 2010 by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and assumed the role as the presiding judge upon the retirement of Donald Sokol in December 2012. The people elected Mallery in November 2012. Both judges are up for re-election in 2018.
While the rumors concerning the battle between the two judges circulated, including reports of complaints being filed with the California Judicial Council and the California Administrative Office of the Courts, those complaints never saw the light of day because the state agencies consider them confidential.
All that changed last year when Andi Barone, the court’s executive officer and a 19-year employee of the court, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the court, the state agencies and Mallery.
Barone alleges on Jan. 7, 2013, when Mallery was about to take the oath of office during a swearing in ceremony, he “was untruthful” to her about actually taking the oath of office in December when he signed an oath of office form at the Lassen County Clerk’s Office.
“Commencing on his first day of office and continuing to date, defendant Mallery has subjected plaintiff and the court’s female staff members to a campaign of hostility, abuse, disrespect and intimidation and has regularly disrupted and impeded court operations to the extent that it is virtually impossible for plaintiff and her female staff to perform their job duties and comply with their ethical obligations,” Barone’s complaint alleges.
Mallery had also filed his own complaints, essentially alleging he was the one suffering mistreatment.
Late last month, attorneys representing the court offered to settle the case for $100,001 plus costs, and Barone accepted that offer. The people of the state of California will pay the settlement.
But the bickering apparently is still not over. This newspaper contacted the attorneys from both sides seeking comment on the settlement. Barone’s attorney did not respond, but the court’s attorney did — with a pair of email responses. Then Verderosa offered yet another revision of the statement from the court’s attorney. Later in the day, we were informed a joint statement would be forthcoming from the court’s attorney and Mallery’s attorney.
Apparently the dispute over the differing statements centers on a single sentence about how the court’s lawyers thought they had a winnable case that was settled in order to avoid the higher cost of litigating the case. There is nothing unusual or out of the ordinary in that statement in such a circumstance.
Now let’s see — the merits of the case will never be adjudicated due to the settlement, and the taxpayers are out more than $100,000 because these folks can’t get along. But to add insult to injury, Verderosa and the defense attorneys representing the court and Mallery — whom we suspect are still billing taxpayers for their services — continue to argue about a common sentence in a statement about the resolution of this case.
This entire situation is completely unacceptable, and it has to stop. The people of Lassen County deserve better, much better.
Our courts and our judges — those who interpret and administer the law on our behalf — should display their impeccable honor, integrity and good judgment at each and every opportunity. Such an unfortunate, long-term fight clearly tarnishes the reputation of the court and all those involved. We encourage them to put this matter behind them as quickly as possible and hope from now on they will handle their responsibilities and disagreements in a way that will make all Lassen County residents proud.