Public Defender Luke Brownfield (left) and former Public Defender Marek Reavis.



Mendocino County Judge Ann Moorman on Monday granted a summary judgment dismissing former Deputy Public Defender Rory Kalin’s lawsuit against the County of Humboldt and his previous bosses, former Public Defender Marek Reavis and current Public Defender Luke Brownfield.

Kalin’s allegations, which date back to traumatic brain injury and an alcohol-fueled Memorial Day celebration on Shasta Lake in 2019, included wrongful termination; racial, religious and disability discrimination; retaliation; and harassment. 

The dismissal comes on the heels of news that a connected lawsuit against Humboldt County Superior Court Presiding Judge Gregory Kreis has also been dismissed, though details of that resolution have not yet been made public. 

You can read Judge Moorman’s ruling in its entirety via a link at the bottom of this post, but we’ll summarize it here. According to the document’s statement of facts, Kalin suffered from clinical anxiety and was taking a variety of medications for the condition, though he initially didn’t tell any of his colleagues in the Public Defender’s Office.

In April 2019, while visiting Southern California, Kalin was struck in the head by a golf ball, suffering a concussion that triggered bouts of dizziness, queasiness and trouble focusing. However, a doctor cleared Kalin to return to work and he did so, but within a matter of days then-Public Defender Marek Reavis sent him home “due to concerns about his head injury and how it may be affecting his work performance,” the ruling says.

Shortly thereafter, several Humboldt County Superior Court judges voiced concerns about Kalin’s behavior. Judge Kaleb Cockrum, for example, described Kalin’s performance in his courtroom as “horrible” and opined that he was not a very good lawyer. Judge Kelly Neel shared her concerns with Reavis, telling him that during a jury selection hearing Kalin was “combative and hostile” and gave probably the worst performance she’d ever seen, making “entirely unsupported” arguments and badly misstating the facts of the case.

Judge Christopher Wilson said these accounts tracked with his own experiences of Kalin, and fellow attorneys complained as well, saying Kalin “argued with judges over unimportant matters and was unable to read the room.” A juror complained to Brownfield that Kalin had been rude and demeaning to the jury. Brownfield himself saw Kalin badly mishandle a case, according to this recitation of facts.

Shortly before the fateful Memorial Day camping trip/pontoon-boat party at Shasta Lake, Reavis and Brownfield decided to demote Kalin, though Kalin wasn’t informed of this fact until the following month. 

The inflammatory allegations of what happened on Shasta Lake have been widely reported. Kalin alleged that a drunken Kreis called him “Jew-boy” and pushed him off the boat into the lake, though Judge Moorman’s ruling says such lake-tossing was part of the day’s general revelry. 

In mid-June of 2019, more than a month after those events, Kalin was informed of his demotion, and matters quickly got worse. The DEA revoked Kalin’s doctor’s license to prescribe controlled substances, and so Kalin went on prolonged medical leave. While he was out, the Public Defender’s Office uncovered further evidence that his job performance had been poor, and Reavis decided Kalin needed to be put on a performance improvement plan (PIP), which is a prerequisite to termination at the county.

Kalin returned to work on January 13, 2020, but when Reavis and Brownfield informed him that he’d be subjected to a PIP, an argument ensued — according to his lawsuit, anyway — and Kalin immediately went back on medical leave, remaining off work for more than a year. During much of that stretch he collected employee benefits from the county while also collecting Social Security benefits for his disability, which had now been classified as permanent. 

On March 15, 2021, the county asked Kalin to participate in “an interactive process meeting” and when he refused, he was “medically separated,” aka terminated from his employment with the county.

In analyzing Kalin’s numerous allegations, Moorman repeatedly cites a lack of sufficient evidence. For example, Kalin alleged that all the punitive actions taken against him at work — his demotion, the performance improvement plan, etc. — were motivated by Reavis and Brownfield’s allegiance to Judge Kreis, which would make them complicit with Kreis’s alleged antisemitic insult.

But Moorman says there’s no evidence that Reavis, Brownfield or anyone else heard the alleged “Jew boy” remark, and besides, “there is little evidence to support the claim that either Brownfield or Reavis would be beholden to [Kreis] in such a manner.” In fact, she writes, “there is no evidence that anyone at the Public Defender’s office even knew about [Kreis’s] behavior at the Memorial Day event.”

Furthermore, Moorman concludes, Kalin’s poor job performance gave his bosses plenty of legitimate reasons to demote him. So she rejects the allegations of racial or religious discrimination.

She also rejects Kalin’s claim of disability discrimination because he didn’t inform the county of his condition until May of 2020, by which point he’d already begun collecting disability benefits. And Kalin presented no evidence that his demotion was connected to his golf-ball-induced health problems.

Kalin’s other claims, including harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress are similarly rejected for lack of evidence.

Brownfield was not immediately available for comment on the dismissal.


DOCUMENT: Order for Summary Judgment