Ex-Orange County Sheriff's Captain Loses Federal Retaliation Lawsuit

In Nov. 2010, an Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) captain filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens plotted to lay her off in retaliation for speaking up against gross mismanagement in Homeland Security operations and about potential internal corruption involving a proposed bank robber tracker program.

Captain Christine Murray, an award-winnnig deputy with the OCSD for 29 years, also claimed that the California Peace Officer's Bill of Rights was violated because she was a target of retaliation for her perceived closeness to former Sheriff Mike Carona, onetime the most powerful Republican in Orange County and now a federal prison inmate in Colorado.

In legal briefs, Norman Watkins--a veteran lawyer for Hutchens, the county and the sheriff's department--recoiled in contempt at Murray's allegations, casting them as farfetched and ridiculously conspiratorial.

Her demotions and job loss were the result merely of an evenhanded, numbers game during a budget crisis at the OCSD, Watkins and Hutchens maintained.

Following a one day bench trial earlier this month inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna sided against Murray's demand for compensation, dismissed her case and granted the defendants the right to recover certain legal costs of defending the lawsuit.

This week, Selna made his ruling official by issuing his judgement on the record.

In her lawsuit, Murray claimed that her audit of federal grant money intended for anti-terrorism activities had found deputies "fraudulently" misused funds; the department allowed the SWAT unit to improperly obtain weapons and equipment; and then-Assistant Sheriff Michael Hillman lobbied for OCSD to give a company, 3si, a contract for a bank robbery-related GPS bait money tracking system when he had substantial personal ties to the firm. She portrayed Hillman, who Hutchens brought in from a long career at LAPD, as obnoxious and ill-tempered, according court records. Last year, Hillman was named head of security at Dodgers Stadium in LA.

Murray was represented by Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, the Upland-based, pro-police union law firm currently entangled in a dispute over whether any crimes were broken when a private detective working for the firm called 911 in August 2012 to report a sober Costa Mesa councilman Jim Righeimer for DUI. 

Righeimer, a longtime enemy of public employee unions, has fought Costa Mesa police union demands for more lucrative benefit and pay packages.

The Orange County District Attorney's office is investigating the 911 call.

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