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County supervisors urged to settle wrongful termination case against Public Defender Office

Matthew Bowler
/
KPBS
An undated photo of the exterior of the San Diego County Office of the Public Defender.

More than half a dozen people Tuesday urged the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit against the county Public Defender Office.

The suit was filed by ex-deputy public defender Michelle Reynoso in 2021. She alleges the county fired her because of her off-hours work with Black Lives Matter and for complaining about what she viewed as racist comments made by a supervisor toward a colleague.

The supervisor – Sherry Stone – allegedly used the word “lynch” while berating a lawyer after he stated that attorneys of color inside the Public Defender Office felt alienated.

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Reynoso has hired Christopher Ludmer, the same lawyer who represented former deputy public defender Zach Davina in his wrongful termination suit against the county.

Last week, a San Diego County jury awarded $2.6 million to Davina, who also complained about Stone’s alleged racist comments toward his colleague. The jury found that Davina, who is gay, was also discriminated against because of his gender expression.

Speakers at the supervisors meeting said given the verdict in Davina’s case, the county should settle Reynoso’s lawsuit.

“These are the same witnesses in the Reynoso case,” speaker Veronica Luna told the board of supervisors Tuesday while urging them to settle Reynoso’s case. “Do you really want to do this?”

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Another speaker, who introduced himself as Bobby, said pursuing the Reynoso case makes little financial sense.

“Why? Why continue to litigate this matter? Pride? To save face?,” asked Bobby. “Please don’t waste our money. Do the right thing. Just settle this case.”

Multiple people also asked the Board of Supervisors to hire an outside investigator to probe other allegations of discrimination and retaliation in the Public Defender Office.

Reynoso’s case is scheduled for trial next month.