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Bunker Mentality

[whitespace] Art Danner
Jennifer Teeter

Boys and Girls Together: Art Danner says he was surprised an investigation found evidence of gender bias in his office, where more than half the attorneys are women.

Charges of gender discrimination shake DA's office

By Kelly Luker

WHILE EL NIÑO BLOWS one storm after another into town, it appears that the Santa Cruz County district attorney's office is weathering some serious tempests of its own. Charges of sexual discrimination have emerged at the top law agency, pitting prosecutors against each other and creating a climate of low morale. At the eye of this particular hurricane are Arthur Danner III, chief district attorney since 1978, and Assistant District Attorney Patty Bazar, who has been with his agency for 18 years. Bazar, recently transferred from her assignment in the Sexual Assault Unit to a lower-level position, filed a complaint with the county's affirmative action office. She says the transfer was a punitive demotion and that she was transferred because of gender bias.

Over the past two decades, Danner has built his agency from a handful of prosecutors to 35, deflecting his share of controversy along the way. This latest round of woes comes at an inopportune time, merely weeks before Danner's re-election campaign is scheduled to swing into gear.

Patty Bazar speaks rapidly, detailing her career working in the district attorney's office. A personable woman with startlingly green eyes, Bazar is a far cry from the buttoned-up type that often defines attorneys. She is quick to laugh and sometimes is moved to tears when she is speaking.

Hired almost two decades ago by Danner, Bazar advanced steadily through the meticulously bureaucratic system designed for civil servants everywhere. She had attained the status of Attorney IV, leaving only the grades of supervising attorney, senior trial attorney and ultimately chief deputy between her and Danner.

The trouble began, Bazar says, when Danner created the sexual assault unit in July 1996 and asked her to be one of the team members. Bazar says she expressed reservations when she learned that Michael Bartram would be supervising attorney for that division.

"I heard [Bartram] had a bad reputation when it comes to working with women," Bazar says, "that he was rude, noncommunicative." In the months that followed, Bazar says she grew to agree with that assessment of her supervisor.

Twice she went to Kate Canlis, Danner's deputy, to complain that Bartram would not communicate with her and that he was condescending.

"The first time Canlis told me to deal with it," Bazar says. "The second time she told me if I can't get along with him, I'm out of the unit."

Within two weeks of her second complaint, Bazar says, she was called in by Canlis and Danner.

"They said I was continuing too many cases, that I wasn't in the office enough," Bazar says. She was then transferred out of the sexual assault unit for poor job performance.

"I was stripped of all cases, which is traumatic to the victims," Bazar says.

Bazar filed a complaint with the county's affirmative action office, charging that Canlis and Danner made their decision to remove her from the unit based on misinformation supplied by Bartram. His reasons for supplying such information, Bazar argued, were due to gender bias. When Bazar was reassigned to work for a less-experienced prosecutor, she filed an amended complaint charging that she was given a punitive work assignment for complaining.

The affirmative action office rejected Bazar's charges. But the findings submitted on Dec. 1 by affirmative action officer Ana Ventura Phares did not completely clear the DA's office of gender bias.

A statement given to Bazar reads: "During my investigation, I found no direct or circumstantial evidence linking your removal from the Assault Unit due to your gender. ... However, I did find a perception among staff that gender, not performance, plays a major role in the attorney assignments, including the length of the assignment and amount of time it takes to promote within the department."

Merit by Gender

DANNER MEETS WITH ME IN one of the conference rooms of the DA's sprawling offices on the third floor of the County Building. He is accompanied by Canlis and two other district attorneys, Don Gartner and Gary Brayton. Danner chooses his words carefully, aware that his office is negotiating its way around a minefield of civil service regulations, guidelines and confidentiality terms designed to safeguard the rights of employees.

"We determined that [Bazar] should be transferred out," Danner says. "It was a performance-based decision. I can't go into specifics--it may affect the rights of Patty Bazar."

Danner admits the remarks from the affirmative action report took his office by surprise.

"I disagree with that perception that there is gender bias," he says. He notes that 18 of 35 attorneys are female, that two of the top three trial attorneys are female and that Canlis is the second most powerful in command.

Reached by phone, Bartram is brief in his response to Bazar's charges: "I have had no problems working with Patty Bazar," he says.

Yet Michael Bartram's professional reputation had already been tarred with the messy brush of gender bias. Once the district attorney of Monterey County, Bartram took Danner's job offer in 1991--along with a $25,000 pay cut--after deciding not to seek re-election in that county. His tenure there had been marred by charges of sex discrimination filed by Mary Margaret O'Connell, an assistant DA he fired for alleged incompetence.

A personnel hearing reinstated O'Connell's job and the Monterey Board of Supervisors also voted to pay her $100,000--although she says she never asked for it--as well as another $75,000 for legal fees.

Both friends and foes praise Bartram's trial skills and insist that he is extremely "victim-oriented"--that he puts the rights and welfare of victims above all.

Danner admits that Bartram can be difficult to get along with, but adds, "I checked [Bartram] out with affirmative action down in Monterey, before I hired him and he came out clean."

That remark surprises O'Connell, reached by phone in Monterey, where she is now in private practice.

"I never went to affirmative action," she says. "I never filed a complaint with them. If Danner was clearing someone, I should have been interviewed."

But Danner indicates that Bartram had nothing to do with Bazar's transfer. "Kate made the decision," he says, nodding toward Canlis.

"I feel like I could document these performance issues," Canlis says, "but I don't think it would be appropriate for a public forum."

In a later conversation, Canlis says Bazar's charges came out of the blue.

"She complained about [Bartram] frequently, but it was mostly about his personality," Canlis says. "She never, never, never said it was gender-related. If she had, I would have told Danner in the blink of an eye."

When asked about Bazar's performance evaluations, which have given her an excellent rating for the past 18 years, the four attorneys cough and look at each other uncomfortably. "The personnel performance evaluations are utilized for administrative purposes," Danner says. "We just did it as a habit."

What about defense attorneys, sheriffs and judges that give Bazar such high marks?

"She's been around 18 years and has developed friends," Danner says. "But I'd be surprised, if they sat down and looked at her work, if they'd still think that."

Patty Bazar
Robert Scheer

Booking Report: Patty Bazar says gender bias contributed to her demotion after 18 years as a DA, but the affirmative action office cleared her boss.

Highly Placed Friends

WITHIN 24 HOURS OF my meeting with Danner, other people from the DA's office are calling, wanting to add their thoughts. Most express outrage that Bazar is using the gender-bias argument. One assistant DA thunders, "Gender bias complaints are often the last refuge of scoundrels."

"I'm not surprised she's acting this way," says Assistant DA Dennis Wong. "I saw her do things in preparation for this--she lobbied all the right people." He dismisses those who speak in favor of her--particularly cops--since Bazar's husband is captain of the Watsonville Police Department.

Wong also says what others repeat in various ways: "It's really tough to fire someone [in civil service].

"She didn't have the passion," Wong says, adding that he never saw her work on the weekends or take work home with her. In contrast, Wong admits that he hasn't read a novel--"anything outside of legal briefs"--in his tenure as assistant DA.

Kristin Long, another assistant DA who worked with Bazar during her tenure in the sexual assault unit, adds, "I feel that what has happened is the civil service system promotes incompetence. If a department wants to fire someone, they are subjecting themselves to a lawsuit." And, in Long's opinion, Bazar was just that--incompetent.

"She wasn't going to trial," Long says. "There were multiple continuances. She delayed. I felt that for whatever reason, she just didn't want to do trials.

"The management in our office is trying really hard to award competent attorneys and make incompetent attorneys responsible," Long says. She strongly denies any charges of sexual discrimination in her agency.

"I was just promoted to Attorney IV," Long laughs, "and I'm about as girly as it gets."

For each of her detractors, Bazar can claim a supporter. "Patty has a great reputation and she does a great job," says Latisha Marshall, a detective with the sheriff's sexual assault unit. "I think that her removal was absolutely shocking."

Marshall, who says she was "extremely happy" with Bazar's conviction rate with sex criminals, adds, "No one came and asked us if we had any problems with Patty. I was surprised and disappointed [by her removal]."

Marshall also commented on Bazar's good working relationship with "line people"--the cops and detectives who supply the background on a crime so that DAs can make the case. That, says another sheriff on condition of anonymity, is not a reputation that either Bartram or Canlis could claim.

Defense attorneys also give Patty Bazar high marks in the courtroom. Sean Gallagher, a Santa Cruz defense attorney for the last 16 years, says, "Patty is one prosecutor who really focuses you to do your homework and be prepared. She's a thinking lawyer's type of DA. She understands the scientific evidence that the defense is going to use sometimes better than I do."

Sandra Goldstein has worked as a sexual assault nurse examiner in Santa Cruz since 1988. She sees firsthand the damage that perpetrators have done to victims and, like Marshall, has a vested interest in justice being done. Goldstein estimates that she has worked with Bazar on about a half-dozen cases and has been pleased with the results.

"She does a thorough job and gets convictions," states Goldstein. "Patty's wonderful at supporting survivors and helping them gain back their confidence and self-esteem."

Second Time Around

DANNER AND I MEET AGAIN following the dozens of interviews I have conducted with sources--those who are directly or indirectly involved as well as seasoned observers of the district attorney and his agency. This time, we are alone. No coterie of assistant DAs join us. Danner opens up a bit more about the situation with Bazar in particular and the gender-bias charges in general.

As far as Bazar is concerned, Danner says, "I thought she deserved a shot [at the sexual assault unit job], even though Canlis and [Chief Deputy Jon] Hopkins thought no."

Danner has had more time to reflect on what the affirmative action response points to as concerns about gender bias in attorney assignments and promotion. He reiterates that Canlis, as acting chief deputy of operations, was responsible for attorney assignments. Four male attorneys received promotions in the last year or so. "That may be the genesis for some of this," Danner says. He points out that three female attorneys have been promoted more recently.

Danner is asked about another persistent rumor--that he is the one burning out, that he is poised to resign from his job as DA for a judgeship or some such Sacramento plum. (The buzz around the County Building had reached such proportions that Danner recently issued a memo to his staff denying the rumor. It stated, in part: "I have no plans to leave office and as a matter of fact have formulated my campaign committee for the election of June of 1998.")

"There's not a time in my career when I have been more invigorated," Danner says. That rumor continues to circulate, he adds, because the governor's office often consults him on judicial appointments.

"At this point, being judge is not what I want to do," Danner says. "I want to be district attorney."

Bazar met with the San Francisco office of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week, which will continue the investigation into her charges of gender bias.

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From the January 22-28, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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