A demotion and a transfer of a lead attorney in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is sparking action from the attorneys’ union and the county.
Wednesday night the executive board of the Government Attorney's Association, the union representing Santa Clara County attorneys, has filed a 46 page grievance with the county accusing the DA of retaliating against lead attorney Jim Sibley for speaking out.
County Executive Jeff Smith says Labor Relations will be conducting an investigation into why Sibley was demoted.
Sibley, a 20-year veteran of the DA’s office and the lead attorney in the Narcotics Unit, has been removed from his position as a supervisor and will be relocated to the Palo Alto office starting Monday.
The move comes after Sibley sent letters to DA Jeff Rosen asking not to be given free time off and denouncing the policy.
Sibley told NBC Bay Area, he believes the demotion is retaliation for disagreeing with his boss.
“What Jeff [Rosen] is doing is wrong and somebody needed to stand up and actually call him on it,” Sibley said in an interview, Wednesday.
It is what NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit exposed last month: DA Rosen giving out extra time off in the form of administrative leave to a select group of employees who had their five percent bonus taken away in the wake of budget cuts. His policy allows those attorneys to use administrative leave to take days off, letting them bank vacation time which they can later cash out.
Multiple sources tell NBC Bay Area, lead attorneys first found out about the free time off policy in a meeting with Chief Assistant DA, Jay Boyarsky. Sibley says, other lead attorneys thought it was a bad idea.
“He [Boyarsky] said, ‘you know, some people may view this as a gift of public funds,’” Sibley said, recounting that meeting to NBC Bay Area. “To me, when you are the second in command and you say effectively, ‘some people may think what I am doing is a crime’ that sets off a lot of bells.”
A spokesman for the DA 's office provided us the following statement from Jay Boyarsky: "I never said anything like that."
So Sibley requested he not get the time off, but it was given to him anyway.
“I never submitted a request for administrative leave,” he said.
Sibley told NBC Bay Area he has never been reprimanded and does his job well. In an email last fall, Boyarsky told Sibley in an email, “You are an excellent SuDDA [lead attorney]”
“The atmosphere within the DA’s office over the last two years is essentially a culture of fear,” Sibley said. “You either go with what the administration is planning or you are going to pay the price for it.”
The DA told NBC Bay Area in response to the claim of retaliation, “That is an unfortunate and false allegation.” He also said, in a separate written statement, “Our attorneys are regularly moved within and among our three office locations at the elected DA’s discretion.”
Now the Government Attorneys’ Association, the union representing attorneys like Sibley is taking action.
“The union is prepared to take all the administrative and legal action necessary to protect the rights of our board members to continue to advocate and speak on behalf of our association,” Deputy District Attorney and GAA President, Max Zarzana, said.
The county may also take action. County Executive Jeff Smith told NBC Bay Area he met with GAA representatives Wednesday. Smith says if the union files a formal grievance that will trigger an internal investigation by Labor Relations to the actions of the DA regarding Sibley’s demotion.
“If it is found that the action is not appropriate, the County has the authority to reverse the assignment action,” Smith said in a statement to NBC Bay Area.
Smith goes on to say “The DA also has the authority to assign attorneys to particular work and locations as he sees fit. However, these assignments cannot be made for a legally prohibited reason (i.e. gender, race, age, sexual preference, retaliation etc).”
“If they had sat and planned how they could most make me pay the price for speaking the truth, they couldn’t have come up with anything better,” Sibley said.
“I receive a demotion of this nature, it is clearly designed to send a message out to everybody, ‘you better tow the line because if you don’t, look what happened to Sibley.”
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