State attorney arrested in SLO courtroom

An attorney representing the state of California in an ongoing civil trial was arrested inside a San Luis Obispo courtroom Tuesday after she allegedly began shouting at an opposing attorney and resisted a bailiff’s attempts to remove her from the courtroom.

On Tuesday morning, as jurors were outside of the courtroom, California Deputy Attorney General Jennie Mariah Kelly was arrested on suspicion of resisting an officer.

Kelly, 49, of Thousand Oaks is representing the state in a wrongful termination lawsuit that was in its seventh day of jury trial Thursday. The lawsuit was filed by a former Atascadero State Hospital and California Men’s Colony psychiatric technician against the state Department of Mental Health, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, several state employees and a private medical staffing firm that provides referrals and placements for state facilities.

The incident occurred during a morning recess and outside the presence of Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera. But several courthouse sources told The Tribune that interactions between Kelly and the plaintiff’s attorney, Timothy V. Magill, had grown heated over several days of testimony. The sources asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to talk about an ongoing case.

Sources said that during Magill’s cross-examination of a state witness, Magill asked the witness whether she had met with Kelly prior to her testimony that morning, a somewhat routine cross-examination question when an attorney is attempting to cast doubt on a witness’ credibility.

Kelly reportedly was angry over the question and began arguing with Magill when the court was in recess.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Thursday that Kelly was “speaking loudly” to Magill and “acting in an unprofessional manner.” The argument escalated until Kelly was shouting and a courtroom bailiff stepped in to calm the situation, telling her she would be removed from the courtroom if she did not stop shouting, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Kelly refused, however, and resisted the bailiff who then took her into custody. She was cited on suspicion of resisting or obstructing a peace officer, a misdemeanor, and released, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

According to court records, after Kelly was escorted from the courtroom, LaBarbera accepted a request from her supervising attorney, Miri Song, to adjourn for the day. Song did not respond to an email request for comment Thursday.

California Department of Justice Press Secretary Kristin Ford declined to comment on the incident or whether it could affect Kelly’s ability to proceed in the case “out of concern for prejudicing the jury in an ongoing trial.”

“Given the trial is in process at this time, I can’t provide any comment in any way,” Ford said.

Both Kelly and Magill were back in trial Thursday afternoon and did not respond to requests for comment as of Thursday evening.

Court records show that Kelly had made three separate unsuccessful motions to LaBarbera to dismiss the case prior to Tuesday’s hearing. The Sheriff’s Office said Kelly had previously been admonished by LaBarbera regarding her “oubursts and inappropriate behavior.”

The trial is expected to continue through next week.

The California State Bar shows that Kelly has no record of disciplinary action. She obtained her license to practice law in 1994. According to her LinkedIn profile, Kelly has been a deputy attorney general since 2001.

The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident but in a statement said the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office early next week for its consideration of formal criminal charges.

Staff Writer Patrick S. Pemberton contributed to this article.

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1