Jury rules in favor of Jefferson County Sheriff's Department in - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Jury rules in favor of Jefferson County Sheriff's Department in whistleblower lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- A civil jury has ruled against a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy, who had filed a whistleblower lawsuit against his employer and Sheriff John Aubrey, claiming he was retaliated against for reporting what he suspected was wrongdoing by a district court judge. 

After deliberating about four hours, a Jefferson Circuit Court jury ruled in favor of the sheriff's department, finding that Deputy William Ziegler’s whistleblower actions were not a factor in why he was disciplined.

“We’re obviously disappointed with the result, but the jury paid very close attention to the evidence, and we respect their decision,” said attorney Thomas Clay, who represented Ziegler.

Lt. Col. Carl Yates, a spokesperson for the sheriff's department, said the situation was unfortunate but "regulations of the sheriff's department apply to all of us, and we are all responsible for our actions."

Ziegler claimed he was retaliated against and suspended for 20 days after reporting that on March 27, 2014, then 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, claimed 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.

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.

Aubrey testified during the two-day trial that Ziegler was punished for taking something off of the judge’s desk and leaving the courtroom with it instead of telling a commander about the incident.

“He’s got an appropriate venue to go through,” Aubrey testified. “There is a right way to do it.”

Aubrey testified that Ziegler "violated the bond between a judge and deputy" when he picked up something on her bench. 

"In my opinion, there were bad choices made here," Aubrey told jurors. 

Calvert has 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 in a previous interview with WDRB, she "acknowledged I could have handled my disappointment differently," rather than talking with the attorneys during court. 

Following the internal investigation,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. 

Ziegler was asking for the department to pay back the money he lost while suspended and pay compensatory and punitive damages.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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