Attorney, bailiff scuffle in San Luis Obispo courtroom
A state attorney arguing against a wrongful termination case last month struggled with a San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s deputy before being forced onto the courtroom floor, surveillance footage of the incident shows.
Deputy Attorney General Jennie Mariah Kelly was arrested Oct. 20 by courtroom bailiffs after what the Sheriff’s Office described as “speaking loudly” and “acting in an unprofessional manner” toward the opposing attorney.
She was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor resisting a police officer, cited and released, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
As of Monday evening, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office had not filed any formal charges against Kelly over the incident, but an office spokesman said prosecutors had not finished their investigation.
“We have received reports from law enforcement and the video, and the case is currently being evaluated at this point,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran said.
Kelly’s attorney, Kara Stein-Conaway, wrote in an email Monday that Kelly, who has represented law enforcement and the U.S. military in her 21-year career, was “battered” by the bailiff.
“Ms. Kelly committed no misconduct of any kind,” Stein-Conaway wrote. “Behavior by the bailiff was a gross and unjustified overreaction to entirely lawful conduct by Ms. Kelly. Ms. Kelly was unlawfully battered, forced to the ground and suffered having had her head pressed up against a metal rail.”
When asked for comment immediately following the incident, Kristin Ford, press secretary for the California Department of Justice, said the agency could not comment at the time because the trial was ongoing. On Monday, Ford said the agency is still reviewing the incident.
Courthouse sources previously told The Tribune that the incident occurred after several days of heated testimony and legal wrangling between Kelly and the plaintiff’s attorney. Kelly had unsuccessfully made three motions to Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera to dismiss the case, according to court records.
The Sheriff’s Office said in a prepared statement following the incident that Kelly began shouting at the opposing attorney, Timothy Magill, and refused a bailiff’s attempt to calm her. It said the deputy told Kelly that she would be removed from the courtroom if she did not stop shouting. Kelly was escorted from the courtroom and arrested, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The footage, obtained by The Tribune through a Public Records Act request, begins after the jury is excused for a morning recess; LaBarbera had already left the courtroom.
About six seconds into the video, Kelly is seen waving her pen and appearing to shout at Magill, who stands mostly motionless across the courtroom and stares back at her.
Ten seconds later, a bailiff approaches Kelly’s desk with his hands folded in front of him and the two exchange words. She appears to begin arguing with the bailiff, who walks around the desk toward Kelly.
At about 26 seconds in, the bailiff is seen grabbing what appears to be both of Kelly’s hands, which he appears to hold on to as they both talk calmly for a few seconds.
Then Kelly suddenly jerks both her arms up out of the deputy’s grip and the two struggle for a second before the bailiff grabs her and brings her down to the ground. Once on the ground, Kelly is lying just outside the frame of the camera.
Other attorneys, including Kelly’s supervising attorney, appear to watch in disbelief before moving away from the action.
The deputy is seen radioing for backup and telling the attorneys to stay back while holding Kelly down on the ground.
Five more deputies arrive and help the bailiff bring Kelly to her feet. She is seen with her hands cuffed behind her back and exchanging a few more words with the deputies before being led from the courtroom through a backdoor.
Court records show that when the trial resumed, LaBarbera granted a request by Kelly’s supervising attorney to adjourn for the day.
The civil trial ended Nov. 9 in a judgment in favor of the defendant, according to court records.
Kelly has no public record of discipline, according to the State Bar of California.