Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy files whistleblower lawsuit ag - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy files whistleblower lawsuit against department

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- A Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy has filed a whisteblower lawsuit against his employer, Sheriff John Aubrey and the department's merit board, claiming he was retaliated against for reporting what he suspected was wrongdoing by a district court judge.

Deputy William Ziegler claims he was suspended for 20 days after reporting that on March 27, Jefferson District Judge Gina Kay Calvert was discussing her political race on the record, telling attorneys in court that her opponent for the judicial election had been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Ziegler, in the suit, claims he watched as Calvert called attorneys up to the bench and talked about the effect the non-endorsement could have on her reelection, while displaying a note on which she had written, "The FOP did not endorse me!!"

After the morning docket, Ziegler said he picked up the note, set it back down, and then went into a courthouse conference room where he told three assistant county attorneys, including Calvert's opponent Susan Jones, what he observed.

Ziegler alleges he reported the activity to determine if Calvert had violated a law or any ethical rules.

"Deputy Ziegler didn't do anything wrong," said his attorney, Thomas Clay. "In fact, he was trying to do his job. His inquiry was justified."

After he reported the incident, Ziegler claims Calvert and Chief Jefferson District Court Judge Ann Bailey Smith complained to the sheriff's department about Ziegler removing the note and an investigation was launched.

In an interview, Calvert, however, said she only asked that Ziegler be reassigned to a different courtroom, because she had "lost trust" in him.

Aubrey and his office decided on his own to investigate Ziegler, she said.

Asked about talking in court with three attorneys about the FOP endorsement, Calvert said she believed the conversations would be private when she turned on a noise machine designed to keep others in the court from hearing bench conversations.

But she "acknowledged I could have handled my disappointment differently," rather than talking with the attorneys during court.

Following the internal investigation, according to the suit, Ziegler was suspended 20 days for violating the department's rules of conduct. Ziegler appealed and the Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Merit Board found that "the disciplinary action was justified but that the penalty" should be reduced to 15 days, which Ziegler served.

The lawsuit accuses Sheriff Aubrey and the sheriff's office of "retaliation and reprisal" for reporting Calvert's actions. 

In his suit, Ziegler is asking a judge to reverse the Sept. 18 decision by the merit board, order the sheriff's department to pay back the money he lost while suspended and is seeking a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages.

Lt. Col. Carl Yates, a spokesperson for the sheriff's department, said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and couldn't immediately comment. 

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