Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Jury awards Denton prosecutor half million dollars after racist office remarks
Four co-workers were fired after the verdict.
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.
UPDATE: 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.
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