[Contra Costa County] Judge to decide who should prosecute harassment case against Contra Costa assessor

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.

MARTINEZ — Before a civil court trial on misconduct charges against Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer can proceed, a judge must determine who is going to prosecute it.

And based on their legal briefs, neither the county district attorney nor the state attorney general wants any piece of the case.

At a hearing Tuesday, a judge is expected to make the call.

After a county civil grand jury last month sought Kramer’s removal from office for alleged “willful or corrupt” misconduct and creating a hostile work environment, the district attorney’s office and Kramer’s private lawyer both asked the judge to assign the case to the state attorney general’s office to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

But in its court brief opposing such an assignment, the state attorney general’s office argues that both parties failed to prove there would be a conflict of interest if the district attorney’s office prosecutes Kramer and points out that simply suggesting there could be a perception of one doesn’t cut legal muster.

A grand jury report filed in court  last month by Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney Chris Walpole accuses Kramer of having made sexual comments to female employees in his department multiple times from December 2013 through 2018 and of uttering a racial slur to an employee.

According to a court transcript, a longtime top-level employee in the assessor’s office testified to the grand jury earlier this year that Kramer forced him into an early retirement, out of retaliation.

The employee alleged Kramer came into the office last August after this news organization published an account of a worker who accused Kramer of making unwelcome sexual comments toward her.

“What do you guys know that you haven’t told me,” Kramer asked two employees, according to the testimony. When he pressed one employee again several days later and the man insisted he did not know what Kramer was referring to, Kramer responded “I’m done with you then. You’re old enough to go to the retirement board. I don’t care what you do, but your last day is Aug. 29,”

“I was in a state of shock,” the employee continued in his testimony, adding that a colleague told him Kramer blamed him for the negative media coverage and subsequent censure by the Board of Supervisors. Kramer later presented him with a demotion, instead of retirement, but the employee eventually left after taking a medical leave.

According to the transcript, Kramer told the grand jury the demotion involved an issue related to parcel mapping, that the employee deliberately crashed an office system and that people were unhappy with the man’s management style. He denied trying to fire the employee.

The same employee testified that Kramer used ethnic slurs against him and told him “white males would never vote for an (expletive) Mexican.” Other employees testified that Kramer made inappropriate comments toward them via text or in person.

The accusation filed by the grand jury calls the harassing conduct “pervasive” and notes that at least one employee considered the work environment hostile or abusive enough that she “feared for her job, was on stress medication and sought professional counseling.”

Kramer has insisted the report of a county-hired investigator who concluded he “more likely than not” made comments in the workplace of a sexual nature exonerated him of sexual harassment because it did not specify that he is guilty of harassment.

In interviews and in the grand jury transcript, Kramer has said the allegations against him by employees and the Board of Supervisors’ censure are all politically motivated by people who are unhappy with him or who want his job.

“They claim to be the victims,” Kramer said in an interview last month. “I’m the victim here.”

Once a civil grand jury files an accusation against an elected official, the local district attorney can file charges in Superior Court, where a trial could be held to determine whether the official should be stripped from office, according to William Larsen, a retired San Mateo and Santa Clara prosecutor who removed two public officials from office through the accusation process.

July 27, 2019

East Bay Times

By Annie Sciacca

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