Retired justice to investigate charges against coroner

A retired Court of Appeal justice will investigate allegations that San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault allowed and participated in sexual and off-color jokes, teasing and lewd behavior in the Coroner’s Office.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to hire retired Justice Zerne Haning to investigate the allegations, which the County Counsel’s Office made public last week. The allegations stem from a complaint made by an anonymous Coroner’s Office employee, who notified the county’s personnel department of the alleged problems last August.

“The report indicated there were some concerns about an atmosphere where sexually charged comments and things of that nature were occurring,” Deputy CountyCounsel Michael Murphy said. “Justice Haning will be doing fact-finding to determine if there is something to those allegations.”

Foucrault, 43, appears to have beaten write-in candidate and Coroner’s Office employee Stacey Nevares in Tuesday’s election for the coroner’s seat, although no count of the write-in votes was available. The county Elections Office has not yet counted some 20,000 absentee and provisional ballots, according to elections officer David Tom. So far, more than 63,000 residents have voted for Foucrault.

Nevares has denied any knowledge of the complaint prior to its public release last week, shortly before the election, but described the atmosphere at the Coroner’s Office as “hostile.”

Investigating the claims was the responsible thing to do, according to Board of Supervisors President Jerry Hill. If Haning finds Foucrault guilty of wrongdoing, the Board of Supervisors will determine what to do next. However, only the voters have the authority to remove Foucrault from office, Murphy said.

The allegations made in the letter and uncovered in a subsequent investigation by Mary Kabakov, director of employee and public services for the county, included frequent sexual banter and innuendo in the Coroner’s Office; teasing about an employee’s sexual orientation; decorations of a sexual nature on a birthday cake; and one incident in which Foucrault is alleged to have “mooned” employees. Kabakov’s investigation, given to county counsel in September, also found that staff had not received proper training in sexual harassment policies, although Foucrault himself received the training in 2000.

Foucrault denied initiating the sexual comments or jokes, according to Kavakov’s report. Foucrault’s attorney, Bill Rapoport, said the complaint should have remained a confidential personnel matter.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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