Contra Costa County’s Questionable Payoff

The county paid "Jane Doe" $450,000, even though her allegations of rape against former Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett were flimsy. The payoff may have also been illegal.

There has been yet another troubling twist in the Contra Costa County’s ongoing saga of political intrigue in the district attorney’s office.

So far, the story has been full of misdeeds and lascivious details. They include dodgy rape charges against a longtime prosecutor, an anal sex club in the DA’s office, a violent criminal’s questionable release from jail, a botched home invasion robbery, and a secret deal with a prostitute. All of these events and sordid characters are connected in one way or another to last year’s campaign for district attorney.

Now a mysterious payout of a large sum of taxpayer money has thickened the story’s increasingly Byzantine plot. The payout is also raising legal questions because it was withheld from grand jury testimony despite the payment’s pertinence to the case before it.

According to documents obtained by the Express, Contra Costa County paid $450,000 to the former deputy district attorney, known as “Jane Doe” in press reports, who claimed she was violently raped by fellow Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett during a lunch break in May of 2008.

The October 2009 payout is troubling because Jane Doe’s rape allegations appear to be flimsy and suspicious. For example, Jane Doe claimed the extreme violence of the alleged sexual attack left her battered, bruised, and bleeding from the anus. But fifteen minutes after the alleged attack, she went shopping with a co-worker who described her as composed and that he “noticed nothing wrong with her,” according to court documents.

Furthermore, she never reported the assault to police or sought medical attention. A medical exam performed weeks afterward showed no physical injuries consistent with Jane Doe’s various accounts of the rape, which changed each time she told it to investigators.

In addition, Jane Doe sent friendly text messages to Gressett for days after the alleged rape. One text message contained a pornographic picture of a woman being “teabagged.”

Instead of immediately reporting the crime, Jane Doe hired Tom McKenna, a private attorney known for handling drunk-driving cases. McKenna’s then law partner was well-connected to Dan O’Malley, who is the son of former District Attorney Bill O’Malley and was, at the time, a candidate for district attorney. McKenna reported the alleged assault to the DA’s office and negotiated some kind of arrangement for Jane Doe, who at the time, was on a temporary contract with the office and was actively seeking permanent employment as a county prosecutor.

For his part, Gressett admitted to having kinky sex with Jane Doe at his Martinez condominium, although he said it was consensual. Gressett, who was 51 at the time of the assault, had never been previously accused of any kind of sexual misconduct or reported for making inappropriate comments.

Jane Doe’s shaky allegations make her high-dollar settlement odd — particularly at a time when the county has been experiencing dire budget deficits and revenue shortfalls.

For unknown reasons, the county counsel’s office expedited the payout and then kept it secret. According to records, the county counsel’s office recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the large settlement agreement, which the board did unanimously on October 6, 2009. But the counsel’s office was unable to immediately produce any records that county officials investigated Jane Doe’s claims — there were apparently no dispositions, no interviews of her co-workers or supervisors, no review of court documents, and no contact with Gressett or his attorneys.

It appears that former County Counsel Silvano Marchesi may have recommended the $450,000 payment based on a two-paragraph complaint Jane Doe filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Jane Doe claimed in the complaint that she reported the assault to former District Attorney Bob Kochly, and he took no action for months while Jane Doe had to continue working in the same office as her alleged attacker. It also claimed that she was denied permanent employment as retaliation because she reported the alleged rape.

Current County Counsel Sharon Anderson did not return calls seeking comment for this story, although her office provided copies of the complaint, settlement agreement, and settlement check.

Now legal questions are being raised because the settlement agreement was signed on October 13, 2009, at the same time a grand jury was empanelled to consider Jane Doe’s rape allegations. The county had a legal obligation to disclose the settlement to the grand jury because it would have weighed heavily on the credibility of her testimony.

The California Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case against Gressett, had no knowledge of the settlement until late last month, according to Deputy Attorney General Peter Flores.

Gressett was fired shortly after he was arrested in October 2008, five months after the alleged assault. He has since challenged the firing as wrongful through arbitration and is currently waiting to find out if he will get his job back along with lost pay and benefits.

There has been a great deal of speculation among county employees as to whether Jane Doe will show up to testify against Gressett. She was scheduled on two separate occasions to testify at Gressett’s arbitration hearing in August, but failed to show up for either one. She has not yet faced tough questioning about her allegations and their varying forms and many suspect that since she has already received a huge settlement (some county employees now call her Jane “Dough”) and moved to Florida, there is no reason for her to return and testify.

Meanwhile, longtime prosecutor Mark Peterson was elected in November as the county’s new district attorney. Peterson’s win unseated the power structure that ran the office for decades, and many are hopeful that he’ll bring to an end the palace intrigues, scandalous behavior, and arrogance that had apparently become an ingrained part of the office culture.


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