Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson decided that a longtime colleague was innocent of sexual harassment accusations without reviewing details of an investigation, he testified Friday.
Regarding January 2008 comments he made to The Bee, the sheriff said he knew Bill Pooley could not have asked a records clerk for on-the-job sex "because I had great confidence in him and I knew he did not do what he was accused of," Christianson told jurors.
He is running for re-election on the June ballot.
After Lydia Lopez told superiors of Pooley's alleged advances, the sheriff promoted Pooley, demoted Lopez and sent her to work at a division overseen by Pooley's father-in-law, Christianson acknowledged Friday.
Lopez, 36, is suing the county and Pooley, who was elevated to chief in Riverbank, a city that contracts with the Sheriff's Department for law enforcement services. Lopez earlier testified that she was drummed out of her job in 2007 after rejecting Pooley's alleged sexual advances in 2004 and 2006.
Pooley and the county deny those charges.
Christianson in January 2008 had told The Bee that Pooley "has done nothing wrong" and called Lopez's claims "unfounded and baseless." But he had not reviewed the investigation that cleared Pooley, the sheriff said.
He said Pooley called him after Lopez filed a complaint. Christianson said he told Pooley the claim would be subject to department procedure "like any other."
The sheriff on Friday said compassion kept him from firing Lopez in August 2007, as recommended by a disciplinary board because of performance issues. The single mother had split from her husband, a gang member now serving a life term in prison.
"She told me that without a job she would struggle to feed her children," Christianson said. "Because of that and that alone, I decided to keep her employed at the Sheriff's Department."
He demoted Lopez and assigned her to work at the Public Safety Center — presided over by Capt. Bill Duncan, who is Pooley's father-in-law. Lopez quit in frustration, she testified earlier.
Christianson said he hired Duncan in 2007 and has known Pooley since Christianson began his career in 1988.
The sheriff said he based Lopez's discipline on an investigation that turned up inaccuracies in handwritten timecards, and said she admitted to "mathematical errors." She tried to cheat because she was short on money, Christianson said in a written report.
But a timecard in question, displayed on a wall screen Friday in court, showed a substantial mistake she made during a week in July 2007 — in the county's favor. Instead of reporting the 36.9 hours she had worked, she erroneously wrote down 28.9 hours.
"If she underreported, she certainly wouldn't get more money, would she?" asked Jeff Hubins, Lopez's attorney.
"I don't know," Christianson said. At another point, he said, "If it doesn't add up correctly, then it's a mathematical error."
No funds for time clocks
Responding to a question from a juror, the sheriff said his department doesn't have enough money to buy time clocks that would eliminate such mistakes.
The sheriff initially testified that he did not assign Lopez to the Public Safety Center after her demotion. Hubins pointed to Christianson's report on Lopez's discipline, which the sheriff said he wrote himself, clearly specifying the transfer.
Christianson also said he believed that Lopez "was being negatively influenced" by supervisor Jackie Bernal. Lopez and Bernal sought legal advice together, Lopez has testified, and both hired the same law firm for separate lawsuits.
Bernal and two other female sheriff's employees won a $545,000 settlement just before a scheduled trial last fall for alleged discrimination.
Christianson's department has faced a number of legal challenges brought by a total of 10 women, all current or former employees.
With Christianson still on the stand Friday, the county's attorney noted other parts of the time card in question, where Lopez reported 2.75 hours of overtime when she worked only 75 minutes of overtime one day, and 2.7 hours of overtime for working 18 minutes on another.
While questioning another witness Friday, a county attorney said Lopez used more than 100 hours of sick time in 2006.
Hubins finished presenting Lopez's case Friday after calling 10 witnesses since the trial began Feb. 4. The county and Pooley are scheduled to begin calling witnesses Tuesday morning in Department 23 at 801 10th St. in Modesto.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.