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The San Mateo County district attorney will face a jury next month as a defendant for his alleged role in outing a woman as a lesbian to her ex-husband. According to a suit filed in San Mateo County Superior Court, James Fox, the San Mateo County DA, released a confidential police report to a man he knew from church. The report revealed that Ramona Gatto was a lesbian, which resulted in her ex-husband seeking custody of their 12-year-old daughter. According to the lawyer representing Gatto, Fox’s actions were a violation of Gatto’s right to privacy, as well as her equal protections under the California Constitution. The suit also names the county of San Mateo and Assistant District Attorney Morley Pitt as defendants, and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. “The conduct of defendants was mean-spirited, malicious, wanton and oppressive,” reads the complaint in Gatto v. County of San Mateo, 420839. It also contends that the defendants “have not established or implemented proper procedures or protocols for training county officers and employees in the handling of confidential information and in equal and fair treatment of homosexual county residents.” Leigh Herman, an attorney at the San Mateo county counsel’s office representing the defendants, said her clients did nothing wrong. “This has already been adjudicated in federal court. It was investigated by the California attorney general, and Mr. Fox was vindicated there,” Herman said. Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said the AG’s office had received a complaint from Gatto on the incident and responded that it did not find any violations of law. The police report at issue involved a 1999 domestic disturbance at Gatto’s San Carlos home in which Gatto’s former girlfriend attacked her current one. When Fox and Pitt later happened upon the report and learned that Gatto was a lesbian, they informed her ex-husband, whom Fox knew from religious study classes. While the report was labeled “confidential,” Herman contends that police reports are, in fact, public record. “San Carlos can say anything is confidential, but a public record is a public record,” said Herman. In January 2002, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel dismissed Gatto’s federal claims on the grounds that gays and lesbians are not a protected class under the U.S. Constitution. According to Steven Phillips, who is representing Gatto in the state suit, the California Constitution offers broader protections. He cited San Francisco’s high-profile dog-mauling case as an important precedent. In a 2001 decision, a San Francisco judge ruled that dog-mauling victim Diane Whipple’s same-sex partner could sue for wrongful death under the state’s equal protections clause. On Friday, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Rosemary Pfeiffer approved an amended complaint that included Gatto’s equal protections claim. The trial is set to begin June 2.

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