Political intrigue has crept into a court case already rife with sexual harassment and retaliation claims aimed at some Stanislaus County authorities.
Potential witnesses include Sheriff Adam Christianson as well as the two men who have led Modesto over the past decade from the mayor's office.
A Jan. 26 trial date comes during Christianson's re-election campaign, while his department confronts a series of legal claims from current and former female employees.
The upcoming case is brought by former records clerk Lydia Lopez, a single mother whose family wound up homeless for a time after she rejected a superior's advances, she says.
Bill Pooley, since promoted by the Sheriff's Department to lead its operations in Riverbank as the city's police chief, denies having forced Lopez to grope his crotch on Christmas Eve 2004, whispering lewd comments or rearranging toys on Lopez's desk to simulate oral sex in 2006.
An investigation into Lopez's accusations by Modesto police internal affairs officers cleared Pooley in August 2007, documents reveal.
Lopez was a model employee before she complained, she says in court documents, but afterward was suspended, demoted and banished to a graveyard shift and then to a satellite office 35 miles away before she was forced to quit in 2007. She sued in December 2007.
She charges that her complaints led her supervisors to scrutinize her timecards, leading to her demotion.
Her lawyer alleges that other employees who are favored by the sheriff got a pass for doing the same thing — doctoring their timecards. Lopez's attorney contends that group includes Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour, K9 officers and an official who investigated Lopez.
The county's attorneys contend that Lopez "overdramatizes" the groping incident, saying her hand did not touch Pooley's genitals and that she was not "scared or threatened." She never informed her superiors that she suffered from depression, a basis for one of her claims — disability discrimination — and "was neither terminated nor forced to resign," a document reads.
Christianson refused to speak about anything related to Lopez's lawsuit. "It's not appropriate for me to comment," the sheriff said.
The case may provide former Mayor Carmen Sabatino another venue to attack Ridenour, a reserve sheriff's deputy, on allegations of timecard misuse, potentially resurrecting an issue investigated and dismissed by the city and county as well as the civil grand jury.
County attorneys deposed Sabatino last week, while Lopez's attorney plans to call Ridenour to testify at trial, the attorney said.