On May 18, the Tribune ran a story with the headline stating “Judge says Keitz can block release of Rowley Report.” The story purports to detail the decision by Superior Court Judge James Oakley, who issued a permanent injunction preventing the Board of Supervisors or the Administrator of Madera County from releasing the report under contention. Additionally, the story editorially states that the content of the Rowley Report “... would perhaps explain why the county agreed to $1.4 million in out-of-court settlements in lawsuits brought against him by former employees of the DA’s office.”
The Tribune stories, both past and present, seem to miss several very important points of California law in an effort to craft a story that paints my efforts as merely that of protecting my professional reputation. The most significant point of law is that of privilege, and on whose behalf this legal battle had to be made.
Judge Oakley held that both the County of Madera and the Office of the District Attorney held attorney-client communication and work-product privilege. This means that both parties to this action had a responsibility to the employees of Madera County who were involved in the workplace investigation. I believed this was a fact that went beyond my personal beliefs or reputation. It also required me to act in a manner that respected the investigatory process and the rights of employees, who expected their involvement would be confidential and not subjected to second-hand speculation by the press or their fellow employees.
With regard to the issues concerning lawsuits and settlements, there have been numerous actions filed against managers, department heads, and elected officials of Madera County over the years. Furthermore, over the past six years the district attorneys of nine other California counties, including Fresno and Tulare counties, were the subject of at least 14 lawsuits brought by employees. Lawsuits are costly. For this very reason, Madera County carries insurance, just as any homeowner would. The Tribune has touted that recent settlements cost the taxpayer $1.4 million. This is wholly untrue as the legal actions against the county and my office have been covered by insurance.
Furthermore, just because a settlement has been paid does not mean that fault exists. A homeowner might be sued for a slip-and-fall accident. But, that does not mean the homeowner did anything wrong. In our litigious society, settlements are commonly reached to bring a case to a conclusion and minimize the cost of the suit.
My mission as the district attorney has been and continues to be to seek justice for the people of Madera County. This requires that I run the District Attorney’s Office with the highest degree of ethics and integrity. I offer no apologies for insisting that my staff conduct the business of the office in a manner that reflects these qualities.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
Michael R. Keitz,