Federal Judge, Again, Rejects Sheriff's Refusal To Accept Jury Verdict In War Hero Abuse Case
Jack Gould / OC Weekly
Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) officials have repeatedly refused to accept a jury's 2013 verdict that they discriminated against a deputy who took temporary leave to serve in a U.S. marine scout sniper unit during the Iraq War and earned the prestigious Navy Cross for life-saving, Battle of Baghdad heroics in 2003.
But Scott Montoya--whose military service was brazenly mocked upon his return to OCSD, targeted for loaded internal affairs probes and fired as a person unworthy to wear a deputy's uniform--keeps winning court rulings.
This month, U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal again soundly rejected the arguments of William Haluck, OCSD's privately-retained, Irvine-based lawyer, who hoped to overturn the unanimous verdict for Montoya, whose service for this country is protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USEERA).
USEERA, a federal law, bans all anti-military discrimination in the workplace.
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Haluck continues to insist--sometimes barely masking contempt--that the jury wrongly accepted "insufficient evidence" on Montoya's behalf and Bernal wrongly assigned the burden of proof in the case.
In reaction, Bernal continues to rule that Haluck's already "thoroughly addressed" arguments misread case law and misinterpret USEERA.
"In sum, the Court refuses to find that a reasonable jury did not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for Montoya on the issue of [what caused his inability to receive a paycheck]," the judge wrote. "During the liability stage, the jury found that Montoya was subjected to a hostile work environment at OCSD. Thereafter, during the damages phase, the jury found that the hostile work environment at OCSD caused Montoya's unemployability."
Bernal noted that Dr. Douglas Christian Jonhson, a clinical neuropsychologist and expert in PTSD among combat veterans, studied the case and reasonably testified.
"Dr. Johnson's opinion in combination with the plaintiff's testimony and the medical records and treatment notes provides substantial evidence from which the Court finds that the hostile work environment at OCSD exacerbated Montoya's PTSD symptoms, rendering him unable to work through the time of the trial," the judge wrote in his Feb. 18 ruling.
The Riverside-based Bernal said he "sees no reason" to overturn the jury's verdicts that resulted in more than $600,000 in damages for the plaintiff.
He also awarded $1.65 million in attorneys' fees and $25,700 in expert witness fees to Montoya's underdog but successful legal team that included John S. Kyle and Frederic G. Ludwig III, who took the case with the risk of working years for nothing because they were offended by OCSD's acts.
Orange County taxpayers are additionally on the hook for Haluck's billings at a cost of $515 per hour while he prolongs the five-year-old case.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens declines to address the situation. According to court records, her OCSD has worked behind the scenes to rescind Montoya's Navy Cross honors that were celebrated in a White House ceremony with President George W. Bush. Geoffrey L. Cooper, who served as Montoya's battalion commander during the Battle of Baghdad, has vocally questioned smear attempts, saying the marine unquestionably deserves respect.
Todd Spitzer, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said this morning that the case is scheduled to be considered at an upcoming closed session.
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