De­fender’s Of­fice ac­cused of mock­ing LGBT client, staffer

Lodi News-Sentinel - - STATE/NATION - By Roger Phillips

STOCKTON — An at­tor­ney who re­cently quit her job with San Joaquin County’s Of­fice of the Pub­lic De­fender says she may sue her former boss and five former co-work­ers over work­place ha­rass­ment and in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments about a fe­male trans­gen­der client.

April Van Dyke, 35, says she was sub­jected to lewd jokes and re­marks from male co-work­ers after she dis­closed to them that she is bi­sex­ual and was dat­ing a wo­man. She also said co­work­ers, fe­male and male, re­ferred to the trans­gen­der client as “shim” and “he/she,” re­spec­tively.

“It’s in­sane,” Van Dyke, now work­ing in Hum­boldt County’s Of­fice of the Pub­lic De­fender, said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. “I just never thought that at this or­ga­ni­za­tion that is sup­posed to be pro­tect­ing peo­ple (that they) would talk about our clients that way. To make fun of their gen­der iden­tity is just de­spi­ca­ble.”

Van Dyke said when she com­plained to the county’s hu­man-re­sources of­fice and filed a worker’s com­pen­sa­tion stress claim, Pub­lic De­fender Miriam Lyell took away her flex­i­ble sched­ule with­out ex­pla­na­tion.

The county’s hu­man-re­sources of­fice hired an out­side at­tor­ney to in­ves­ti­gate Van Dyke’s al­le­ga­tions. The at­tor­ney’s re­port “sus­tained in part” two of Van Dyke’s al­le­ga­tions — that she was shunned in the of­fice and that “shim” was used in the of­fice in ref­er­ence to the trans­gen­der client. But HR said it was un­able to de­ter­mine specif­i­cally who com­mit­ted the of­fenses.

Lyell is­sued a writ­ten state­ment when asked about Van Dyke’s al­le­ga­tions.

“I will not pro­vide specifics to any ac­tions that I took in re­sponse to the con­fi­den­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion find­ings other than all of her claims were thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated by an ob­jec­tive and in­de­pen­dent third-party law firm,” Lyell wrote.

“All staff re­ceive pe­ri­od­i­cal man­dated train­ing on all the county poli­cies, civil ser­vices rules and (equalem­ploy­ment) poli­cies, as well as other train­ings, con­sis­tent with the county re­quire­ments.”

Terry Leoni, a lawyer who rep­re­sents the five at­tor­neys from the pub­lic De­fender’s Of­fice named in Van Dyke’s com­plaint to hu­man re­sources, also is­sued a state­ment.

“My clients strongly deny any dis­crim­i­na­tory treat­ment of Ms. Van Dyke,” Leoni wrote. “An in­de­pen­dent law firm in­ves­ti­gated Ms. Van Dyke’s claims. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was ob­jec­tive, metic­u­lous and thor­ough, and the al­le­ga­tions of dis­crim­i­na­tory treat­ment were not sub­stan­ti­ated.

“My clients are Pub­lic Defenders who’ve ded­i­cated their ca­reer to loy­ally, eth­i­cally and com­pas­sion­ately rep­re­sent­ing some of the most di­verse and needy pop­u­la­tions. They look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to fo­cus on serv­ing their clients.”

Two at­tor­neys, one a former mem­ber of the Pub­lic De­fender’s Of­fice, and an­other in pri­vate prac­tice, spoke in sup­port of Van Dyke.

“These clients are at a low point in their lives and are des­per­ate and have been let down by so many peo­ple and so­ci­ety,” said the former pub­lic de­fender, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause of her on­go­ing work in the le­gal pro­fes­sion.

“How do you put faith in some­one who is sup­posed to be ad­vo­cat­ing for you when they are calling you names be­hind closed doors?”

Van Dyke said hear­ing fel­low at­tor­neys in the Pub­lic De­fender’s Of­fice al­legedly mock one of the depart­ment’s clients was dis­il­lu­sion­ing.

“The rea­son I love be­ing a pub­lic de­fender is the clients,” Van Dyke said. “I feel of­ten­times that I’m the only one who is there standing in their cor­ner . ... I feel like this is what I’ve been meant to do.

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