A judge declined Tuesday to impose sanctions on the city of Los Angeles in connection with allegations by attorneys for an LAPD criminalist that the defense prevented the deposition of a psychiatrist by falsely claiming she was dead in 2015.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie said that the late Dorothy Tucker, based on the testimony of her treating physician, likely had been mentally impaired for years and would have been unable to testify when first issued a subpoena by plaintiff Jennifer Francis’ lawyers in 2015. Tucker did not actually die until 2017.
“I think this could have been handled a lot better,” Fujie said.
But the judge added she would not grant the plaintiff’s request to put restrictions on the evidence presented by the city during trial. Jury selection in Francis’ case began immediately after her ruling.
On Monday, Fujie ordered Tucker’s Dr. Annette Rittman of Kaiser Permanente to court Tuesday to answer questions from lawyers about a March 2017 letter she wrote in which she said Tucker was a patient of hers at the time and that Tucker was “cognitively impaired” by Alzheimer’s disease.
During her testimony, Rittman admitted she was not the one who diagnosed Tucker with Alzheimer’s disease and that she was incorporating the findings of a unit in her hospital into her letter. However, she did say that based on Tucker’s regular visits with her, the woman had been ”very impaired” and had been for many years.
Rittman said she had trouble remembering some of the specifics of her treatment of Tucker because she did not have her medical file with her.
Francis filed her whistleblower retaliation lawsuit in October 2013, alleging then-Detective Cliff Sheppard of the Robbery-Homicide Division’s cold case unit ignored the results of DNA tests that she performed as a criminalist in the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division. Those results gained importance years later when another detective determined that then-LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus killed a romantic rival.
Francis alleges that Sheppard knew Lazarus had ties to the victim, Sherri Rasmussen, but did not want to consider her a suspect in the killing of her onetime boyfriend’s bride. Francis also claims she was told by supervisors beginning in 2005 to ignore possible evidence implicating Lazarus in Rasmussen’s slaying. Sheppard is now retired.
Rasmussen, a nurse, was found beaten and shot in February 1986 in the Van Nuys townhouse that she shared with her husband. Lazarus was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced in May 2012 to 27 years to life in prison.
Lawyers for Francis said the City Attorney’s Office, which previously handled the city’s defense in the case, “engaged in a campaign of misrepresentation” concerning Tucker’s ability to testify. Their court papers state that they sought Tucker’s deposition as early as 2015 because they believed she was the only person with first-hand knowledge of the “real reason plaintiff was ordered to undergo involuntary psychological treatment” by the city.
Francis’ lawyers maintain that the plaintiff’s supervisors ordered her to be examined by Tucker as part of their campaign of retaliation and harassment against her for coming forward with her allegations against Lazarus. The plaintiffs’ lawyers also allege that in order to “cover her tracks,” Tucker altered the plaintiff’s medical records.
But when the notice of deposition was sent to the city in 2015, the City Attorney’s Office responded that Tucker was dead, according to Francis’ attorneys’ court papers.
Francis’ lawyers say they conducted their own investigation and determined that Tucker was still alive. They obtained a court order for Tucker’s deposition in February 2017, but the city told Tucker to ignore a subpoena and she died at age 79 in December of that year, according to Francis’ attorneys’ court papers.
The City Attorney’s Office denied any wrongdoing and handed over the city’s defense of the Francis case last year to the private firm of Sanders, Roberts, LLP. In their court papers, the current defense team stated that sanctions are unwarranted and that Tucker was “unavailable for deposition because she was seriously ill with the Alzheimer’s disease which ultimately killed her.”