Former Chandler court commissioner threatens suit - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Former Chandler court commissioner threatens suit

December 7th, 2020 SanTan Sun News
Former Chandler court commissioner threatens suit

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A former commissioner of Chandler Municipal Court is seeking $2.5 million in damages from the city after claiming to be the victim of retaliation and discrimination.

Nicole Countryman, who resigned from the city court in September, filed a notice of claim earlier this month listing out a series of allegations against her former boss, City Magistrate David Fuller. Such notices are a precursor to a lawsuit.

Countryman accused Fuller of treating her unfairly after she filed a complaint against another court employee and mistreating her in front of her colleagues.   

James Woods, an attorney representing Countryman, described Fuller as having a “Jekyll-and-Hyde” personality who allegedly singled out Countryman by belittling her in group emails and forcing her to work on weekends.

“This highly offensive behavior had a serious impact on the psychological well-being of Ms. Countryman,” Woods wrote in his legal claim, “and continues to cause her severe emotional distress.”

A city spokesman said the city could not comment on Countryman’s allegations due to a current investigation into its court employees.

Countryman was hired as one of Chandler’s court commissioners in 2019 and was responsible for helping the magistrate preside over the many traffic tickets and petty crimes that are brought before municipal court each year.   

According to Countryman’s claim, the former commissioner first started having problems with Fuller in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countryman accused Fuller of not taking any action to protect court staff during the first two months of the pandemic.   

“Court leadership maintained the position that this was merely the flu and put in zero protocols to protect their employees,” Countryman’s claim states.

Countryman claimed she started wearing a face mask in April even though most of her colleagues opted not to wear one.

After the Arizona Supreme Court required all the state’s judicial employees to start wearing masks in June, one of Countryman’s colleagues went around the office offering masks.

Countryman claimed this colleague came into her office holding a bunch of white-colored masks and one black-colored mask. Countryman, who is African-American, claimed the coworker offered her the black mask and Countryman declined.

The court’s two other African-American employees were only offered black face masks as well, according to Countryman’s complaint.

Countryman felt the way masks were distributed in the office was “racially offensive” and “inappropriate” – prompting her to file a complaint with the city’s human resources department.   

The city ruled Countryman’s complaint about the mask situation could not be substantiated.

Afterwards, Countryman claimed Judge Fuller started retaliating against her and stopped speaking to her in-person.   

She accused Fuller of forcing her to work weekends and forfeit vacation time after she was unable to gain access to a cell phone for a few hours while working remotely from home.

In September, Countryman wrote a discharge letter to the city indicating she could no longer tolerate Fuller’s “abuse.”

Countryman tried rescinding her letter after the city informed her an independent investigation into complaints against Fuller had begun.

According to the claim, Fuller emailed Countryman the city had “no authority” to rescind her resignation letter. Countryman is now seeking punitive damages for her lost income and emotional distress that she endured for the last few months.

“Ms. Countryman has had insomnia, severe anxiety and depression, and sought medical treatment,” Countryman’s attorney wrote in the claim. “She continues to experience emotional discomfort.”

The portrayal of Fuller in Countryman’s claim is a stark contrast to the community-minded professional the magistrate presented when he joined the city court last year.

Fuller was appointed to preside over the Chandler court in June 2019 after serving as assistant director of Phoenix’s Office of Court Appointed Attorneys and working as an assistant prosecutor for the Town of Gilbert.

Aside from his legal career, Fuller has volunteered for Chandler American Little League, the Special Olympics of America, the East Valley Regional Veterans Court, and a local dog rescue organization.

“I think my background is ideal for it and I’m entirely invested in our community,” Fuller said after his court appointment. “I have nothing but love for Chandler. I wanna keep us going in the right direction.”   

The Arizona Bar Association does not list any disciplinary actions taken against Fuller.

Countryman has recently filed a separate complaint against Chandler’s court staff with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. Countryman’s attorney said she’s willing to forgo litigation against the city if she is reinstated to her former position.