Scottsdale City Council indemnifies city attorney in wrongful termination lawsuit

Fuller v. City of Scottsdale moves toward legal remedy

Posted 7/29/20

The Scottsdale City Council has elected to indemnify City Attorney Sherry Scott as part of a wrongful termination lawsuit brought against the municipality.

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Scottsdale City Council indemnifies city attorney in wrongful termination lawsuit

Fuller v. City of Scottsdale moves toward legal remedy

The City of Scottsdale and City Attorney Sherry Scott are facing a wrongful termination lawsuit. The City Council chose to indemnify Ms. Scott as part of the legal proceedings.
The City of Scottsdale and City Attorney Sherry Scott are facing a wrongful termination lawsuit. The City Council chose to indemnify Ms. Scott as part of the legal proceedings.
File photo
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The Scottsdale City Council has elected to indemnify City Attorney Sherry Scott as part of a wrongful termination lawsuit brought against the municipality.

The City Council approved the move on consent at its July 1 meeting. With its passage, Ms. Scott will receive representation from Wieneke Law Group in the case Fuller v. City of Scottsdale in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Shawn Fuller, a former city prosecutor, filed a lawsuit that names the City of Scottsdale and Ms. Scott as defendants, seeking monetary compensation and punitive damages.

The case centers around Mr. Fuller’s termination from the city as he claims the city fired him because he ordered an audit that found the prosecutor’s office withheld potentially-exculpatory evidence in nine DUI cases in the past five years.

This act, according to Mr. Fuller’s lawsuit, is a violation of the Brady Doctrine, which requires prosecutors to turn over evidence that might prove a defendant’s innocence or vice versa.

The city disputes this claim, saying his termination had nothing to do with the audit. Furthermore, the city claimed, via a prepared statement, it removed Mr. Fuller for workplace misconduct and gender harassment. The city based these allegations on a third-party investigation that detailed several instances of the allegations. Mr. Fuller denied the allegations in his lawsuit.

Hiring and audit

The city hired Mr. Fuller on Sept. 30, 2019, according to his lawsuit. Shortly into his tenure, Mr. Fuller claims he heard rumors of potentially-exculpatory evidence not being disclosed to defendants.

Specifically, Mr. Fuller claimed he became aware of one instance where a defendant learned of an potentially-exculpatory lab report in a DUI case and requested a meeting with former City Prosecutor Caron Close. Mr. Fuller says this discovery came after the defendant was sentenced but Ms. Close declined the meeting,

The audit, according to the lawsuit, pinpointed nine instances in which potentially-exculpatory blood work wasn’t disclosed to defendants who pled guilty. Mr. Fuller further claimed Ms. Close handled most of the cases.

In a prepared statement, the city claimed the nine instances were out of 1,000 cases. Furthermore, the city claimed those nine cases were not disclosed because of an oversight. The city says it had put in procedures to prevent a repeat of this prior to Mr. Fuller’s start date.

“The defendants pled guilty before blood work results voluntarily on an independent basis --- meaning there was sufficient evidence to be prosecuted without blood work,” the city claimed in a prepared statement. “The problem was very technical. Shawn Fuller was allowed to proceed with the audit and everything he wanted.”

When the audit results came back, Mr. Fuller says he went to Ms. Scott, who began as city attorney in early October 2019, with his findings in mid-October but she was weary to file a pleading with the City Court though she ultimately did.

The pleadings tells the court and the defendants that potentially-exculpatory evidence exists and gives the defendant a chance to request a plea change.

“Ms. Scott was extremely hesitant to give permission to Mr. Fuller to file the pleading, stating that it could potentially expose City of Scottsdale to negative publicity and/or civil litigation,” Mr. Fuller’s attorney Joshua Carden said in the lawsuit.

On Nov. 6, 2019, Scottsdale City Court Presiding Judge Joseph Olcavage informed the State Bar of Arizona of the Brady violations and the pleadings from Mr. Fuller’s office, according to the lawsuit. Mr. Fuller said he later found out he was under investigation from the bar because of the audit and the pleadings. He also said he heard Ms. Scott say she was worried about Ms. Close.

Mr. Fuller also claimed he wanted to go back further than five years to see if there were any issues but Ms. Scott refused. The city stated this was because Ms. Scott didn’t want to do a further audit from other outside records “unless determined to be necessary.”

Investigation and firing

Mr. Fuller claimed, in his lawsuit, Ms. Scott told him he would be on administrative leave with pay on Jan. 7. Mr. Fuller claimed the reasons for the suspension was vague but he believed it involved an allegation of a harassment of a female attorney in his office and gender discrimination.

Mr. Fuller said he wasn’t given specific details but he still denied the allegations. He further claimed Ms. Scott waffled on the allegations, later saying the investigation was just into gender discrimination.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Fuller claimed the complaining attorney was “a favorite of Ms. Close” when she was city prosecutor. He further accused Ms. Scott of informing Ms. Close of the audit that Mr. Fuller had launched.

The investigation, which included numerous interviews with city staff and assistant city prosecutors, as well as Mr. Fuller, centered on three questions:

  • Did Mr. Fuller fail to comply with “City Values?”:
  • Did Mr. Fuller treat employees differently on the basis of gender?; and
  • Did Mr. Fuller institute sweeping changes without understanding the prosecutorial process of the office?

According to a redacted version of the report, investigator Mary Cronin, an attorney at Cronin Law Group, found numerous instances of all three categories. The report claimed 16 of the 21 people interviewed said Mr. Fuller “did nothing to make the work environment a better place.”

“It is simply astounding that someone, in a matter of months, could create such havoc in a work place,” Ms. Cronin said in her report. “Instead of utilizing the vast experience of his employees, he eschewed their experience and wealth of knowledge by making them feel inferior.”

Specifically, the report stated Mr. Fuller focused on one female attorney in particular and his behavior toward her became “increasingly aggressive and hostile.” The report also noted Mr. Fuller made “sweeping changes” but provided little direction on how to implement those changes.

The report further detailed the general view of Mr. Fuller was “condescending, insincere, unapproachable, abusive and a bully.” Ms. Cronin further reported Mr. Fuller awarded those who were loyal to him and called his treatment of women in the office “deplorable.”

“It is this investigator’s opinion, [Mr.] Fuller lacks the demeanor and temperament to be a supervisor,” Ms. Cronin said in the report. “He is either unwilling or unable to comprehend how his behavior and comments are perceived. Furthermore, he is unable to conduct himself in a manner deemed appropriate in the work place, especially when working with women.”

Mr. Fuller, in his lawsuit, claimed on Feb. 7, he met with Ms. Scott, a human resources representative and Joe Padilla, who was the acting city attorney that hired Mr. Fuller. At this meeting, Ms. Scott told Mr. Fuller the report wasn’t good, though nothing was in writing yet, and gave him a chance to resign to which he declined, according to Mr. Fuller’s lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed Ms. Scott had a prepared dismissal letter for Mr. Fuller and she said she had lost trust in his ability to lead the department.

Mr. Fuller claims, via the lawsuit, Ms. Scott told him the report contained no findings of gender discrimination or harassment but it did say he had the potential of doing both if he remained employed.

After his termination, Mr. Fuller filed a notice of claim on Feb. 10 and the city made public its investigation report in March. Mr. Fuller alleged the report was “enhanced and exaggerated” in response to Mr. Fuller’s notice of claim as an “attempt to avoid liability for firing Mr. Fuller.”

The lawsuit claimed the termination was directly linked to the audit and Ms. Scott had acted with “malice or reckless disregard” for Mr. Fuller’s rights.

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