Garfield County sheriff seeking to bar questions about relationship in lawsuit

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario is asking a judge not to force him to answer questions about his romantic relationship with an employee as part of a lawsuit brought by a former employee.

Also, an attorney for former Garfield County jail commander Scott Dawson said Dawson plans to defend himself against the lawsuit by arguing that sexual relations with the former employee were consensual.

At issue is a lawsuit brought by Lisa Martin against Vallario and Dawson in 2008.

She contends Dawson sexually assaulted her while she worked at the jail, and she was wrongly fired from her job at the jail after complaining about sexual harassment, discrimination and poor jail conditions.

Martin’s attorney, Richard Dally, is seeking to ask Vallario in a deposition about his personal relationships with people, including a county jail sergeant with whom he became romantically involved. But Vallario argues that such questions are irrelevant and designed to embarrass and harass him and parties not involved in the lawsuit.

Dally says in court documents that the questions are pertinent because Vallario says Martin was fired for falsifying time sheets, and yet Vallario had been accused of letting the jail sergeant do the same thing. Dally said he wants to determine whether time-card policy has been used inconsistently to fire employees.

Vallario publicly acknowledged his relationship with the jail sergeant in 2009. Prosecutors investigated whether his girlfriend took paid vacations she hadn’t earned, and they found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing involving misuse of public funds.

Vallario also objects to answering a question about when he began his relationship with the jail employee. He previously has denied allegations that it started before her late-2007 promotion to sergeant, a promotion that reportedly came after Vallario broke a 2-2 deadlock vote by a promotion board.

Martin’s lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 27. It comes as Vallario is facing a general-election challenge from Democrat and former Garfield County sheriff Tom Dalessandri. Vallario won the Republican primary earlier this month by 78 votes.

Jonathan Cross, Dawson’s attorney, told District Court Judge James Boyd on Tuesday he expected to call only four or five witnesses, including Dawson and Martin. One reason for not calling more is only Dawson and Martin knew about what Dawson contends was consensual action, he said.

“There aren’t any real witnesses to it other than Dawson and the plaintiff,” he said.

Martin says in court filings that “she realized that there was a problem” when Dawson first kissed her at a party in October 2005. She claims she “felt obliged to have sex with him as part of her job” and not complain about it to Vallario, and that the relationship ended in December 2006.

Dawson, who is married, remained with the office immediately following the suit’s filing but was fired later. An internal investigation by the Sheriff’s Department found that he and another department employee were responsible for sending an e-mail to county commissioners in early 2009 raising concerns about Vallario’s relationship with the jail employee.

Dally says in court filings that while Vallario is objecting to saying why Dawson was fired, he already has acknowledged under oath that it was for sexual harassment of one or more employees.

Martin is the daughter of county Commissioner John Martin.

The lawsuit originally also had named the county board of commissioners. However, another judge dismissed the complaint against the board because Vallario is an elected official rather than a commissioner employee.


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