Monday, June 25, 2012

Jury awards Denton prosecutor half-mil after racist office remarks

Ugh. ... After a black defendant in Denton County drunkenly drove into a cemetery, knocking over gravestones, struggling with and berating the officers who arrested her, a prosecutor in the local DA's office said to a black colleague that the woman's behavior made him “understand why people hung people from trees,” and that it made him “want to go home and put on his white pointy hat.” When the colleague reported him, she was dubbed a "troublemaker" and harassed by others, including one of the prosecutor's relatives who worked in the office. The pointy-hatted prosecutor's wife was the plaintiff's supervisor. The black prosecutor sued in federal court, and as a result, reported the Denton Record Chronicle, "won a federal racial discrimination suit against the county Thursday and was awarded a little more than $500,000 plus attorneys’ fees." Further:
The suit alleged that felony prosecutor Cary Piel made racially insulting remarks in Boldware’s presence; that his wife, Susan Piel, who was [Nadiya Williams] Boldware’s supervisor in the misdemeanor crimes section of the office, did not protect Boldware from having to hear those remarks; and that Ryan Calvert, Susan Piel’s brother and another prosecutor with the district attorney’s office, made remarks later that harassed Boldware and contributed to a hostile work environment. ...

[Attorney Bill] Trantham said the county spent $250,000 defending the suit. County officials hired Dallas lawyer Thomas Brandt, who specializes in federal civil rights law, instead of using in-house lawyers. In addition to the $510,000 award from the jury, the county must pay the fees of Trantham and Chris Raesz, who also tried the case.

“I think we’re looking at fees of about $100,000 each,” he said. “This is going to be a million-dollar hit for the county.”
Ms. Boldware and her tormenters are all still employed at the DA's office, which must make for a particularly awkward dynamic with so many family members and former co-defendants working there.

MORE (June 26): Four prosecutors were fired yesterday in the wake of the jury verdict, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle:
Denton County District Attorney Paul Johnson fired four prosecutors in his office Monday after the county lost a $510,000 racial discrimination lawsuit last week in federal court.

Susan Piel, Cary Piel, John Renz and Ryan Calvert all were fired at about 11 a.m. Monday, said Jamie Beck, first assistant district attorney who acts as Johnson’s spokeswoman.

She declined to comment further on the matter.

Denton lawyer Bill Trantham, who tried the case against the county, said Monday that he thought it was politically expedient for Johnson to fire all four of the lawyers involved in the case.

Susan Piel is married to Cary Piel, Trantham said. Calvert is his brother-in-law and Renz was his partner in a felony court.
“I think it’s an earthquake up there,” he said of the district attorney’s office. “From a political standpoint, I’d rather get rid of them all than have anyone left over when re-election time came. If I’d been Paul Johnson when it first happened, I would have just fired Cary on the spot and been done with it.”
Really? The DA knew about the actions criticized in the lawsuit three years ago but is only firing them after a jury came out against him? That seems like they're not being fired for harassing a co-worker but for costing the county money. Bad optics, as they say.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hells Bells! That's a lot of Family kin working in a prosecutor's office!

Lone Star Ma said...

For reals. What is that about?

Anonymous said...

For real! But they are all looking for new jobs today. The scuttlebut around the courthouse says that just prior to the lawsuit being filed, the DA cancelled the office's Malpractice Insurance as a cost cutting measure and county taxpayers will take the million dollar hit.

Anonymous said...

6:56AM said " The scuttlebut around the courthouse says that just prior to the lawsuit being filed, the DA cancelled the office's Malpractice Insurance.."

That in and of itself tells you how untouchable prosecutors really think thing are.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:56/7:30: Prosecutors have "absolute immunity" from civil suits regarding their conduct prosecuting cases so I'm not sure why they'd need malpractice insurance. I didn't think prosecutors even carried it.

FWIW, and to be clear, I'm not a lawyer, this is an employment discrimination case, so it probably would not be covered by malpractice insurance, anyway.

ckikerintulia said...

No problem. Just get a judge to vacate the ruling.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, do you happen to know if there is any solid proof that the nasty krapola really came out of his mouth?

Asking because if there isn't any recording and / or other people that heard it, then how the hell does anyone really know it did? I'm having a real problem believing it really happend. But as it looks, 12 Dentonites did believe it.

C'mon, a white man (lawyer) saying this to a woman (lawyer) three years ago is just hard to believe. With a slap on the wrist in the form of being fired, you can look forward to seeing the fantastic four open their own firm. Thanks.

NOTE: Denton County, Tx. taxpayers will pick up the tab as usual, the fantastic four will be replaced & history will rinse & repeat.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

TRG, I have no specific knowledge, but from the press coverage it didn't sound like the guy disputed that he made the remark.

Alan Andrews said...

Anyone idiotic enough to say something like that out loud, regardless of the racial mix of whoever's in earshot, should not be in public office. Even if it was meant as a joke, how culturally ignorant do you have to be to think that it's okay to say it? And if you really do believe that way, then more's the pity.

JH said...

Almost any attorney can obtain malpractice coverage. I even know of some current and former judges who still carry a policy even with judicial immunity. Many policies also allow coverage for grievance proceedings. That being said, aren't many counties/cities self-insured? I have no idea if the county carried a professional liability policy when I prosecuted, and I hope to never have to call on my policy - but like all other insurance it is worth the price. I bet some of the major professional liability providers use the case to market their services to governments - regardless of whether the conduct would have been covered or not.

Anonymous said...

ckikerintulia cites the primary back-up plan for prosecutors "...get a judge to vacate the ruling."

Fortunately in this case a judge and jury deviated back on course.

DWI Houston Lawyer said...

Thanks for taking the time to share this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.

Anonymous said...

I know three of the four prosecutors that were fired. They were all excellent prosecutors. It is a sad day that they are no longer fighting for justice for the citizens of Denton County. However, the comments that were made are egregious.

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Brent Ohelers said...

http://www.dentonrc.com/local-news/local-news-headlines/20120707-court-records-shed-light-on-lawsuit.ece

Apparently, much of what was alleged and reported about these prosecutors was not true.

Oh, Denton said...

I have to say that I have my own Denton story with proof that I will pass on to Grits for Breakfast but to answer Thomas R. Griffith and others, the verdict did NOT come from Dentonites. It was heard in Federal Court in Sherman, TX. We are missing some info of what was said in the case, but the evidence had to be very compelling since the burden of proof in civil cases is on the Plaintiff.