Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks outside the county administrative building in San Jose in May 2021.
Former Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith is being sued by a Sheriff's Office employee for creating a hostile work environment. File photo.

A Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office employee is suing the county, claiming former Sheriff Laurie Smith created a hostile work environment for her and others who participated in a corruption investigation targeting Smith.

Lara McCabe, a management analyst in the sheriff’s office, alleges in a complaint filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court last month that Smith repeatedly “intimidated, harassed, and threatened” her as retaliation, and that the county administration did nothing to stop it—despite multiple attempts McCabe made to get help.

The lawsuit was filed on Nov. 3, one year after a civil grand jury found Smith guilty on six charges of corruption and willful misconduct, officially ending her nearly five-decade career in law enforcement. The Mercury News first reported the lawsuit.

The complaint said Smith started harassing McCabe in 2020, when McCabe was cooperating with an investigation by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office into allegations Smith was sidestepping gift reporting laws and engaging in a pay-to-play scheme for concealed carry gun permits.

“Smith became desperate to find out any information regarding the investigation,” the complaint said. “On several occasions, she badgered Ms. McCabe as to information Ms. McCabe had provided. On another occasion, Sheriff Smith followed Ms. McCabe into another employee’s office and demanded that Ms. McCabe tell her the reason for the investigation.”

McCabe said Smith intimidated employees by regularly telling them she read investigation transcripts, claiming to know who was involved and what they said to investigators. McCabe’s complaint said Smith also became more antagonistic toward employees who might cooperate with the investigation.

In March 2020, during an executive team meeting consisting of Ms. McCabe and other top brass such as Undersheriff Rick Sung, Smith said the team needed to discuss messaging around the scandal, and singled out Sung as the person who would take the blame, McCabe claims.

“‘The message is he will be going to jail, not me,'” the complaint alleges Smith said, while pointing at Sung. “Sheriff Smith’s comment was extremely unprofessional and not only humiliated a member of her staff, but made the rest of the attendees, including Ms. McCabe, fearful and obviously uncomfortable, as Smith intended.”

Smith’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office declined to comment, due to ongoing  litigation. Attorneys for McCabe did not respond to a request for comment.

In another meeting, Smith was defiant, claiming she would not be found guilty of any of the allegations because those testifying against her “are all liars, even Lara,” the complaint alleges Smith said.

Smith continued to make “accusatory and threatening statements” for the remainder of her tenure, McCabe claims.

The complaint said the night before McCabe was set to testify in front of a criminal grand jury, she received a call from Smith “who was upset and crying,” telling her the investigation into her actions “was unfair and that she felt alone in the agency.”

McCabe claims that in early 2021, after news outlets began reporting the contents of the investigative transcripts, it became more difficult to do her job at the sheriff’s offices as people showed allegiance to Smith.

“Ms. McCabe suffered so much retaliation and intimidation from other employees who believed that Ms. McCabe was heavily involved in the investigation and subjected to harassment and scrutiny, to the point where, Jeff Smith, County CEO, felt compelled to ask Ms. McCabe if she was safe,” the complaint said.

However, despite later claims the county CEO would help McCabe find a new role, he didn’t follow through and McCabe was left to continue working with Sheriff Smith. McCabe had to sit with the sheriff during a Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting where the board took a no confidence vote against Smith, based in part on McCabe’s testimony.

“McCabe felt vulnerable, threatened, and alone, because the county was failing to take any action to protect her (or others) as a witness in an investigation,” the complaint said.

McCabe said after voters elected Sheriff Bob Jonsen to lead the office in late 2022, she still faced retaliation and a hostile work environment. She has been stripped of duties and responsibilities, and at times either wholly or partially excluded from executive team meetings that she has long sat in on.

McCabe is seeking damages, a declaration from a judge that her rights were violated by the county and an injunction and cease and desist orders to prevent any further harassment and retaliation against her and others.

Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on X, formerly known as Twitter.

McCabe Lara Complaint
Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply