Hanford

Hanford approves outside lawyers for Brieno, Ramirez in harassment suit

Hanford City Councilmembers Art Brieno and Francisco Ramirez will be represented by outside counsel in the lawsuit they are facing from former city community development director Darlene Mata. 

The council unanimously approved an agreement Tuesday to allow Visalia-based Farley Law Firm to represent both councilmen. 

Farley Law Firm will be paid the same rate that the city attorney would have been paid to represent the duo, but the city is unsure what the total cost will be. 

In March, Mata hit the city, Brieno, and Ramirez with a lawsuit over harassment and discrimination allegations. 

That culminated after Mata and the city failed to agree to a settlement over her $1.25 million government claim filed in January 2021. 

In the lawsuit, Mata made 16 allegations against the city and Brieno regarding gender harassment, invasion of privacy, unlawful disclosure of confidential personnel information and unauthorized disclosure of medical records and retaliation. 

Previously, an independent investigation commissioned by the city confirmed 14 of the allegations were supported by evidence

Ramirez is named in the lawsuit for his advocating last year to lift the censure that had been placed on Brieno. 

The lawsuit alleges that Ramirez and Brieno are undermining and discrediting Mata, in part for Ramirez’s request in March for a reorganization of city council leadership. 

That led to the council removing Diane Sharp as mayor, replacing her with vice mayor Kalish Morrow. 

Before Tuesday’s vote, Brieno and Ramirez were asked to recuse themselves by City Attorney Ty Mizote due to their position with the lawsuit. 

Brieno and Ramirez refused. 

“The fact is that I will have a day in court, and in order to be able to go to court, I need to feel that I have counsel that is not part of the group that put me into this,” Brieno said. 

Brieno also said that he finds it petty that Ramirez was added into the lawsuit, which he claimed was over Ramirez’s request to remove Sharp as mayor. 

“For me, this is a joke,” Ramirez said. “For me, in the report it’s stating that I’m retaliating against Diane for Darlene, and that’s not true. The citizens stated that they didn’t want her as the mayor, and I was obligated to the citizens. It was no vindictive issue whatsoever.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.