Vol. 21 No. 5- Kern County Vs. Sparks: Sometimes The Good Guy Wins

KERN COUNTY vs. SPARKS: “Sometimes the Good Guy Wins”
March 15, 2006

As many of you already know, retired Kern County Sheriff Carl Sparks was sued by the Kern County Board of Supervisors and accused of filing false claims to justify authorizing premium pay for seven commanders covering a fourteen year period of time. The Board claimed that authorization for such premium pay could only come from the Board itself and that the Sheriff “intentionally misrepresented” and/or “negligently misrepresented” the justification for the increase in compensation. (It was stipulated that the commanders had, in fact, performed additional services for the additional compensation. When the additional services (example commanding the SWAT team) came to an end so did the initial compensation.)

On Monday, March 13, 2006 , after the County completed the presentation of its case against Sheriff Sparks, the Judge granted the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict. The verdict is directed by the court when, in the opinion of the court, the plaintiff has not met its burden of proving the elements of the acts alleged. The Judge stated from the bench that, in his opinion, this case never rose to the level of the filing of false claims and should never have been pursued on that basis.

Kudos must be extended to my colleagues Paul Coble and Dean Pucci. Paul, as lead counsel on the case, very effectively used cross-examination to convert virtually all of the plaintiff’s witnesses into defense witnesses. Dean’s presentation of the oral argument in support of our motion for a directed verdict identified for the court how the County failed in meeting its burden of presenting a prima facia case.

Many of the jurors, after being dismissed by the court, approached either Carl or Linda Sparks and expressed support, indicating if the case had gone to a jury verdict it would also have been in favor of the Sheriff.

One other aspect of this case, which is important to note, is the incredible support for Sheriff Sparks coming from the California State Sheriff’s Association (CSSA). It would have been financially untenable for the Sheriff to undertake the cost of defending himself, which was the only way he could be vindicated and restore his credibility. Since the amount of the premium pay involved, a grand total of $38,000 divided among the seven commanders over a fourteen year period of time, was so de minimus, as compared to the cost of a full-on defense, it would have been impossible for the Sheriff to defend himself, were it not for the support of CSSA.

It was of paramount importance to the CSSA Board that the issue involved appropriate, legitimate, actions by a Sheriff during the course of his tenure. There is also the awareness that the same circumstances could present themselves to any retired Sheriff.

It is not inconceivable that this matter will continue if the Board of Supervisors decides to appeal the decision of the Judge. That call is obviously theirs alone but, hopefully, they will recognize the folly of spending more of the public’s money on a wrong issue. We will be filing a motion with the court to declare this a frivolous lawsuit and, thereby, enable Sheriff Sparks to recover the costs and expenses he was compelled to incur in order to defend against the frivolous and malicious allegations of wrong doing.

As always, if you wish to discuss the matter in greater detail, feel free to contact me at 714- 446-1400 or by e-mail at mjm@jones-mayer.com.