Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Created: 01/05/2011 05:07:48 PM PST

A San Bernardino Superior Court Judge has ordered former County Administrative Officer Mark Uffer to return thousands of county e-mails and documents he has had in his possession since being fired in November 2009.

On Monday, Judge John Pacheco granted a motion by the county to compel Uffer to return the items, including a CD ROM with thousands of e-mails between Uffer and county officials during Uffer’s five years as San Bernardino County’s top administrator.

Pacheco noted in his order granting the county’s motion for the material that the information in Uffer’s possession pertains to matters of confidentiality and privilege.

He said the Labor Code mandates that “everything which an employee acquires by virtue of his employment, except the compensation which is due him from his employer, belongs to the employer, whether acquired lawfully or unlawfully, or during or after the expiration of the term of his employment.”

Uffer, who now works on contract at the Colorado River Medical Center in Needles, said Wednesday that he should have all the e-mails and documents returned to the county no later than Friday.

“I understand the court’s ruling. We respect the court’s ruling,” said Uffer. “We want to do everything in our power to cooperate . . . and will be returning the requested documents as appropriate.”

His attorney, Sanford Kassel, questioned why the county would be asking for Uffer to return the documents since the county already has them on backup.

He hinted that it was likely due to Uffer’s pending litigation against the county, and an effort to block certain information from coming out.

“Certain supervisors and staff want damaging documents showing violations of public policy and law hidden from the public. Kind of a far cry from the county’s alleged `Sunshine Policy,’ Kassel said in an e-mail.

County spokesman David Wert said in a statement that the documents Uffer took from the county contain confidential medical, personnel and legal information that Uffer was privy to only as county administrative officer.

“The court agreed it was improper of him to have taken county property upon his departure, and the court did not hesitate in ordering him to return it,” said Wert. “It would have been irresponsible for the county not to have sought the return of those documents, considering that the privacy rights of patients and rank-and-file employees and the public’s legal interests were at stake.”

As to Kassel’s and Uffer’s assertions that county officials are afraid that potentially embarrassing information could surface if the e-mails and documents were allowed to remain in Uffer’s hands, Wert said: “If the motive for taking the documents was because they contained proof of wrongdoing, why has more than a year gone by without any revelations?”

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to fire Uffer. Gary Ovitt, Neil Derry and Brad Mitzelfelt voted in favor. Josie Gonzales and Paul Biane voted against.

To read entire story, click here.