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Sheridan v. Pima County

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 18, 2018

Theresa Sheridan, an individual, Plaintiff,
Pima County, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable Cindy K. Jorgenson United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 62) filed by Defendants Barbara LaWall and Pima County (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff Theresa Sheridan (“Sheridan”) has filed a Response (Doc. 66) and Defendants have filed a Reply (Doc. 69). Oral argument has been requested. However, the issues are fully presented in the briefs and the Court finds it would not be assisted by oral argument. The Court declines to schedule this matter for oral argument. LRCiv 7.2(f).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On August 6, 2007, Sheridan was hired to work as a deputy county attorney at the Pima County Attorney's Office (“PCAO”) on behalf of Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall (“LaWall”), Pima County, and the State of Arizona. During all times relevant to this litigation, LaWall was acting in her official capacity as an employer within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(a).

         The hiring process required Sheridan undergo an in-person interview with other PCAO personnel while completing presentations before an assessment committee. Sheridan testified during her deposition that she went through six different levels of interview/presentations and that LaWall hired her.

         During Sheridan's time as a deputy county attorney, she prosecuted hundreds of misdemeanor and felony crimes. She was reassigned between misdemeanors and felonies during her tenure at the PCAO. Sheridan asserts she was the top-performing prosecutor in her unit in jury trial convictions at the time of her dismissal.

         During Sheridan's time at the PCAO, she was assigned as the prosecutor in State v. Marisela Gray (“Gray”), CR20131845 (“Gray case”) - a felony driving under the influence of prescription drugs case. Defense counsel for Gray alleged - through an April 2014 motion filing - that Sheridan had obtained an unredacted prescription medication list for Gray in February 2014. Specifically, it was claimed Sheridan looked through documents in the work area of the Judicial Assistant for Arizona Superior Court Judge Teresa Godoy (“Judge Godoy”) and removed a non-redacted copy of Gray's prescription records. This removal was despite the law clerk/bailiff stating she was not comfortable with Sheridan taking the documents; however, Sheridan indicated she did not hear the comment of the law clerk/bailiff. (Agreement for Discipline by Consent, Doc. 63-1, Ex. 15). Shortly after the filing of the April 2014 motion, Sheridan wrote a response to defendant's motion arguing no prosecutorial misconduct had occurred. Further, on May 29, 2014 a week before the scheduled jury trial, Arizona Superior Court Judge Teresa Godoy (“Judge Godoy”) held a hearing in the Gray case regarding the allegations surrounding Sheridan.

         At the hearing, Judge Godoy recognized that, based on the state's response to the prosecutorial misconduct motion, Sheridan would be required to be a witness; Judge Godoy ordered that another prosecutor be present to represent the state at the hearing. Further, at the end of the hearing, the judge found Sheridan had committed intentional prosecutorial misconduct and dismissed the Gray case with prejudice. Specifically, that court stated:

THE COURT FINDS as follows:
1. Ms. Sheridan being told to return on Monday by this Court's Law Clerk, as the item was not in the box and she ignored the request to return on Monday.
2. Ms. Sheridan came into chambers and went to this Court's Judicial Administrative Assistance [sic] desk and removed an item. This Court's law clerk informed Ms. Sheridan that she was uncomfortable with her removing the item, but Ms. Sheridan ignored that statement and removed the item anyway. The item removed by Ms. Sheridan were [sic] privileged medical records that were un-redacted.
3. The envelope had to be opened and looked at as there is no other way that Ms. Sheridan could have seen the contents as the documents were sealed.
4. Ms. Sheridan never notified defense counsel of what occurred.
5. Ms. Sheridan also sent communications to chambers; this Court's Judicial Administrative Assistant, about the incident and did not copy defense counsel.
6. Avowing to the Court six separate times that she never looked at the documents.
THE COURT FINDS that [] all of these actions were done intentionally on behalf of Ms. Sheridan and she made conscious decisions about what she did each step of the way and did so with indifference of the prejudice to the defendant.
* * * * * *

(Def. Statement of Facts, Doc. 63-1, Ex. 12).

         That same day, Sheridan met with her supervisor Ryan Schmidt, LaWall and Amelia Cramer (“Cramer”), PCAO's chief deputy county attorney. Sheridan was placed on administrative leave with pay[1] by LaWall via a hand delivered letter from human resources signed by Cramer citing an ongoing investigation into her conduct. After the hearing and Sheridan's placement on administrative leave, the PCAO elected not ...

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