A judge on Wednesday ordered jurors to forget about racy e-mail evidence sent by a woman suing the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department for alleged workplace sexual harassment.
Lydia Lopez, a former records clerk, on Tuesday had confirmed sending a flirtatious note from a work computer describing herself dripping after a shower. But Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson on Wednesday said he would not have allowed the intrusion into Lopez's private life if attorneys had made clear that the note's recipient was a boyfriend and not Lopez's co-worker.
The county's attorney had introduced the e-mail while questioning Lopez.
Johnson ordered the account stricken from the court record and told jurors they cannot consider it when weighing the case. He apologized to attorneys for having testily confronted them behind closed doors, but told them later, "I don't want to see this happen again."
In a pretrial ruling, Johnson had warned lawyers not to introduce evidence irrelevant to the case, including Lopez's romances. Morin Jacob, representing the county, argued that the titillating e-mail still was inappropriate to send while on the job, but the judge didn't buy it.
Lopez, 36, says retaliation forced her to quit after she rejected alleged sexual advances from Bill Pooley, a drug agent who was cleared in an internal investigation and subsequently promoted to police chief in Riverbank.
On the stand for a fourth day, Lopez testified Wednesday that she telephoned Sheriff Adam Christianson at home to plead for understanding six months before quitting. She had never spoken to him before, she said.
"I thought I was being picked on," Lopez said. "I told him I was calling (as) a last resort, that I'd talked to many people about what happened and I told him I felt I had no one else to go to."
The sheriff directed her to call his secretary "in a couple of weeks" to set up an appointment, she testified. Lopez did not, she said, because "he didn't sound like he cared too much."
Christianson's second-in-command, Undersheriff Bill Heyne, testified Wednesday that Lopez was disciplined for not keeping accurate timecards. Heyne was "trying to change the culture" of sloppiness, he said.
Heyne and Christianson presided over separate disciplinary hearings for Lopez. But Heyne said he did not directly attempt to hold accountable department supervisors who signed off on employees' timecards.
Heyne is scheduled to continue testifying this morning in Department 23 at the City Tower building, 801 10th St., Modesto. Christianson is expected to take the stand this afternoon.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.