Whistleblower psychologist is terminated at state mental hospital. $1 million. Napa County.


Psychologist at State Mental Hospital says she was terminated in violation of public policy after she complained about trial competency evaluation procedures.

The Case

  • Case Name: Melody Jo Samuelson v. California Department of Mental Health, et. al.
  • Court and Case Number: Napa Superior Court / 26-57631
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, February 21, 2014
  • Date Action was Filed: Friday, November 16, 2012
  • Type of Case: Employment, Wrongful Termination
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Diane Price
  • Plaintiffs:
    Dr. Melody Jo Samuelson, psychologist, 50
  • Defendants:
    California Department of State Hospitals
    Dr. James Jones, Chief of the Psychology Department.
    Dr. Nami Kim, Senior Psychologist, plaintiff's supervisor.
    Dr. Deborah White, proctor for plaintiff's forensic assessment privileges.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,000,000
  • Net Verdict or Award: $1,000,000
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    Department of State Hospitals: $890,000

    Dr. James Jones: $50,000

    Dr. Nami Kim: $30,000

    Dr. Deborah White: $30,000

  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 weeks
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days
  • Jury Polls: 9-3 or 10-2 in favor of plaintiff

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:
    Law Offices of Kirk B. Freeman by Kirk B. Freeman and Matthew A. Mallet, San Francisco.
  • Attorney for the Defendant:
    CA Dept of Justice by David Pai and Michael Gowe, Oakland.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Experts:
    Dr. Aurelio Campos, M.D., Napa. (Plaintiff's treating physician)
  • Plaintiff's Technical Experts:
    Randy Sugarman, CPA, San Francisco.
    Glenn Tenney
    Dr. Randy Otto, Psy.D., psychologist, Tampa Bay, FL.
  • Defendant's Technical Experts:
    Dr. John C. Riley
    Dr. Thomas Grisso, Psy.D.. psychologist, San Luis Obispo.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff is a psychologist at Napa State Hospital. Plaintiff alleged that she was retaliated against for whistleblowing by the defendants. Plaintiff complained that the trial competency evaluation procedures at Napa State Hospital did not comply with the applicable standard of care and violated statute. Plaintiff alleged causes of action for whistleblower retaliation based on Govt. Code sections 8547.3(c)and 8547.8(c) and Labor Code section 1102.5.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That she complained about the trial competency assessment procedures at Napa State Hospital. She contended that defendants retaliated against her by suspending her privileges, and subjecting her to peer review proceedings conducted in violation of medical staff bylaws, initiating a Special Investigator investigation for criminal perjury charges and ulitmately terminating plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff was reinstated by the State Personnel Board with back pay, but suffered emotional distress and lost income due to an inability to open a private practice.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That plaintiff did not actually make whistleblowing complaints, but merely registered professional differences of opinion regarding the trial competency assessment procedures at the hospital. Defendants further contended that they took the actions they took against plaintiff not because of her complaints, but because of her testimony at a competency hearing involving a patient at the hospital.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Anxiety and depression.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $1,200,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,300,000

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: None
  • Defendant §998 Offer: None