Sacramento County has settled another lawsuit involving the jail, this time agreeing to pay $45,000 to an attorney who says she was falsely accused of exposing herself to a client while visiting him when he was locked up.
The settlement agreement also required the Sheriff’s Department to revise its policies on how it handles cases where wrongdoing by an attorney during a confidential client visit is suspected.
Now, sheriff’s officials must follow a multi-step hearing procedure that allows an attorney to appeal a suspension of visiting privileges at the jail.
The unusual case stems from a November 2014 incident at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, in which attorney Sage Kaveny was accused of removing her pants and boots and engaging in sexually explicit conduct while visiting a client who was an inmate.
Kaveny, who denied all of the claims by sheriff’s officials, was barred for six months from meeting with other inmates in rooms expressly designed to accommodate the confidential nature of attorney-client meetings.
She complained that she had her visiting privileges restricted despite two orders from a Sacramento Superior Court judge, who determined she was the victim of “rash and inappropriate treatment by overly zealous correction officers,” and she filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in January.
Sacramento attorney Stewart Katz, who represents her, said Monday that Kaveny decided to settle the case after the department rewrote its policies.
“We achieved this litigation’s goal in that the Sheriff’s Department has changed its policy so that this doesn’t happen to someone else,” Katz said. “Even though it was a comparatively quick settlement, it took a lot longer than it should have to draft the policy.”
He added that Kaveny, who has said she was subjected to gossip and rumors spread by deputies after the incident, was not looking for a monetary windfall.
“I think the department may have had the mistaken belief that this was about money,” Katz said. “It was not. The money doesn’t begin to compensate her for what she went through.
“She just wanted to make sure jailers cannot arbitrarily decide which lawyers get to see their clients. Sage did not want this lawsuit to become her professional identity, and she is pleased to now be able to focus entirely on her practice.”
The sheriff’s department has declined to comment on the case, but sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull said in an email Monday that the new policy is in effect.
“The revised policy states that confidential visitation privileges within the Main Jail or Rio Cosumnes Correction Center may be suspended or modified where cause exists,” Turnbull wrote. “The revised policy also describes the procedure that a person can appeal the suspension or modification. It provides a guideline of the due process of that suspension or modification and appeal. Further, a decision on the appeal will be made through an informal resolution or administrative hearing.”
Robert Chalfant, the outside lawyer who represents the county and the department, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The lawsuit stems from a 90-minute visit Kaveny paid to a client at RCCC who was in jail awaiting trial on a domestic violence charge.
Kaveny said in an interview in January that she was sitting on a small metal stool when she stood up to stretch. That movement apparently took her out of sight of jail surveillance cameras that record video – but not sound – of confidential attorney-client visits.
Deputies burst in and pulled her client out, strip searched him and revoked his status as a “houseman,” or trusty. The inmate claimed he also was ridiculed by deputies and that one destroyed some legal files related to his case and searched similar files.
Kaveny was accused of removing her boots and pants in front of the inmate, something both Kaveny and the inmate have denied.
She subsequently had her visiting privileges restricted, which led her to complain in Superior Court that the restrictions were hurting her ability to confer with her clients and prepare for court appearances.
The inmate she was visiting at the time of the incident complained that his case was stalled for nine months. He ended up spending three years behind bars before he was acquitted of all the charges he faced.
The settlement agreement contains no admission of liability on the part of the county or the sheriff’s officials named as defendants in her lawsuit.
But it does provide for a policy change that allows attorneys whose privileges have been suspended to receive a written notice within 30 days explaining the reason and allows them an opportunity to appeal and demand a hearing before a jail official who not involved in the matter.