Solano County, Calif., District Attorney David Paulson retaliated against a bail bondsman who slammed the prosecutor in a newspaper ad, a federal court jury decided Wednesday.
Paulson and his chief investigator, Al Garza, acted with malice when they sought a temporary restraining order against Joel Thomas "Tom" Toler and then unsuccessfully pursued charges that he violated that order, the eight-member jury found.
"It's a pretty significant victory for any federal jury to find a public official acted maliciously," said Toler's attorney, Matt Gonzalez of Gonzalez & Leigh in San Francisco.
The jury awarded Toler $72,000 in compensatory damages and $18,000 in punitive damages, Gonzalez said.
A message left late Wednesday with Paulson and Garza's attorney, John Whitefleet of Sacramento's Porter Scott, was not immediately returned.
Paulson testified during trial that he never saw the critical newspaper ad and that he was not trying to retaliate against Toler, according to the Fairfield Daily Republic.
The genesis of the case goes back to March 2005 when Fairfield bondsman Toler complained to local police that someone had physically threatened his children. Toler went to the district attorney's office on April 7, 2005, and, according to documents filed with the court, left unsatisfied with prosecutors' lack of action on his case.
On April 12, Toler took out an ad in the Fairfield Daily Republic that was highly critical of Paulson and his office. That same day, Toler alleged, the chief investigator in Paulson's office prepared a report accusing the bondsman of threatening a public official during his April 7 visit to the DA's office.
In mid-June, the Fairfield newspaper published a story about a small claims action Toler filed against Paulson. Two days later, Paulson's office sought and later received a temporary restraining order that kept Toler 500 yards away from the DA.
That September, Toler said, he and Paulson innocently crossed paths at a public parking garage. The next month, criminal charges were brought against Toler for violating the restraining order; he was later acquitted.
Toler filed suit in the Eastern District's Sacramento court in April 2006, alleging that Paulson, Garza and another investigator had conspired to retaliate against Toler for exercising his First Amendment rights.
"It was very important for these guys [Paulson and Garza] to stand trial and acknowledge publicly what they had done," Gonzalez said.
The jury did not find that the third investigator had retaliated against Toler.
Toler took out another newspaper ad before the 2006 election, again criticizing Paulson through a satirical "help wanted" ad.
"I don't think it's over yet between these guys," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said Paulson and Garza's attorneys had offered to settle the case before trial for attorneys fees and $1 in damages.