Political retaliation lawsuit against Stanislaus DA’s Office thrown out

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager
Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager Modesto Bee file

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit against the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office before trial, saying a former prosecutor was disciplined for bad behavior and not because he supported his boss’s political opponent.

Douglas Maner, who now regularly faces his former employer in court as a private defense attorney, said he may appeal the ruling.

Maner had claimed that District Attorney Birgit Fladager retaliated against him for backing her rival when she was first elected in 2006. He was subjected to a string of disciplinary actions before leaving in 2013, his lawsuit said, while other prosecutors got more lenient punishment for egregious acts.

The county’s attorneys contended that Maner’s punishment had nothing to do with his political support of former Judge Michael Cummins and everything to do with Maner’s rudeness toward clerks, judges and officers with other agencies. U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd agreed.

Though it appears (Maner) was disciplined many times for things he said, and particularly for his inability to articulate himself without offending those around him, there is no evidence from which a reasonable inference of retaliation could be drawn.

U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd

“(Maner presented no) evidence that the discipline he received was related to his political support for Cummins, rather than due to other appropriate reasons, such as his own misconduct,” Drozd said in a 28-page ruling made public Wednesday.

In a statement to The Modesto Bee, Fladager said she would like to “go line by line” through all of the court documents and “each and every statement made or quoted that were inaccurate, misleading, or taken out of context” in the case.

“However, not only would that take far too much time, but it would ultimately serve no real purpose and would only extend the attention given to this matter which is now quite rightfully closed,” Fladager said.

It’s unfortunate that this lawsuit required the county to expend precious financial resources to defend against it.

Birgit Fladager, Stanislaus County district attorney

Maner had a clean personnel record from 2007-2011, followed by a series of disciplinary steps, including suspension, transfers to undesirable positions and being stuck in a windowless office.

“All of these adverse employment actions happened years after the contested election,” Drozd said. “There is simply no thread of evidence drawing a connection between these latter employment actions” and Maner’s exercise of First Amendment free-speech rights, the judge said.

“The timing ... in actuality supports the conclusion that they were taken for legitimate reasons, not retaliatory ones,” Drozd concluded.

I will continue to fight to prevent injustice to myself and others who are wrongfully accused by the District Attorney’s Office.

Douglas Maner, attorney

Some of the office’s dirty laundry was aired when Maner claimed that he was punished and essentially forced out, mostly for being rude, while others received relative hand slaps.

For example, Fladager overlooked Douglas Raynaud’s drunken-driving conviction when promoting him to chief deputy district attorney, while Raynaud was still serving probation. Another attorney’s suspension for a DUI and hit-and-run conviction was reduced from 45 to 20 days, and other attorneys received letters of reprimand for lying to intimidate and making sexual suggestions.

“The evidence establishes that no one else acted as poorly in their professional interpersonal relationships as (Maner) allegedly did,” Drozd said in his grant of summary judgment, or lawsuit dismissal. “If anything, this evidence supports the conclusion that (Maner) was punished in an entirely reasonable, appropriate and constitutional manner.”

Maner, who filed the lawsuit in 2014, said Thursday, “I knew that when I personally challenged the most powerful law enforcement official in Stanislaus County, and sought to hold her responsible for her malfeasance, that this would be a long and difficult battle. Unfortunately, another government official has taken her side.”

Fladager said, “The important thing here is that a federal judge granted a summary judgment in favor of the county.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390