Call it a writ of habeas doofus.
Last week, for the second time in 2007, the city of Modesto found itself on the embarrassing end of a lawsuit filed by female employees. This time, it was a gender-equity lawsuit.
Let's rephrase that. It was a lawsuit over gender inequity. If there had been equal pay, there would have been no lawsuit and the jury wouldn't have ordered the city to pay $189,100 to the plaintiffs, employees Jo Ann Bertolotti and Leslie Curtin. Nor would the city probably face paying gobs more in legal fees for both sides.
Not only was the city beaten in court, it also sent out a press release that bore the venom of an undignified bully and a lousy loser.
The release began: "The city is disappointed by the jury verdict because the city feels strongly that the plaintiffs were paid appropriately and were not denied equal pay based on their gender."
That was followed by a quote from Shelline Bennett, the city's hired-gun attorney.
"The verdict contradicts the evidence developed during the trial, especially from plaintiffs' own witnesses," she said.
It not only was sent to the media, but also to every city employee, and was posted on the city's Web site in what could be perceived as an attempt to intimidate Bertolotti and Curtin, who continue to work for the city.
This riled some City Council members. Bob Dunbar, Janice Keating, Kristin Olsen and Will O'Bryant said they had no idea such a release would be, well, released.
" 'The city feels this ...,' 'The city feels that ... ,' " O'Bryant said. "I feel like I'm the city. We're (the council is) the city, and I think we should be part of that discussion. We haven't had a chance to discuss (the verdict)."
But they will, Olsen promised.
"In an upcoming closed session," she said.
O'Bryant and Keating said the release was inappropriate because it contained opinions that appeared to represent the feelings of the entire city leadership, including the council when, in fact, the council neither saw it beforehand nor endorsed it.
"That was not something that should have gone around 1010 Tenth St. (the city offices downtown)," O'Bryant said. "If someone sues the city, they are intimidated. It's not our job to put out a press release around City Hall. (Employees) should read about it (the verdict) in the paper."
"I am disappointed," Keating added. "We didn't need this on the heels of the (verdict)."
It's another fine mess the city has gotten itself into, and something that shouldn't have happened, Keating said.
"Normally, we shy away from anything that can be construed as an opinion about the outcome," Keating said. "The outcome (of the lawsuit) may or may not have pleased us, but we were careful not to do anything more than to state the facts -- not opinions."
Gary Goyette, who represented Bertolotti and Curtin, called the release "retaliatory in nature" in an e-mail he sent to a group of people that included City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood, Bennett -- the outside attorney who represented the city -- the entire council and the plaintiffs.
He questioned why the news release was sent to all employees, wondering why they weren't allowed simply to read it in the newspaper. O'Bryant and Olsen concurred.
"Until I read Goyette's letter, I didn't know it had been sent out to all of the employees," Olsen said.
Goyette questioned why the release never mentioned the plaintiffs by name, only referring to the "Gender Suit Verdict."
If the city's intention was simply to inform the staff of the outcome, he asked, "then why are the opinions of 'the city' expressed to all city employees?"
And he questioned whether the city issued a similar release after settling its gender bias lawsuit by employees Karin Rodriguez, Debra Eggerman and Jocelyn Reed for $3.25 million in March. Yes, they did, but only to the media -- not to the entire staff.
"This resolution provides an opportunity to conclude a difficult chapter so that the organization can move forward," City Manager George Britton said in that release.
By comparison, Friday's release might as well have said, "Boy, did those jurors drink the Kool-Aid or what?"
Though it disappeared from the city's Web site late Monday afternoon, the arrogant tone of the release bothered O'Bryant.
"We have to respect what the courts do," he said.
Even if some attorneys don't.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2383.
To read Jardine's blog, go to http://thehive.modbee.com/jeffjardine