Lawsuit by Man Incarcerated Six Years for Civil Contempt Gets Postponed

Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse (Photo by R. Scott Moxley)

A man jailed for six years solely on a civil contempt charge will have to wait longer for a federal jury to hear his $25 million constitutional rights lawsuit against the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD).

With the agreement of both parties, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford has moved Zulmai Nazarzai’s scheduled November trial to April 30, 2019, inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana.

Nazarzai’s 2017 lawsuit alleges that by incarcerating him for 71 months Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, Deputy Ben Garcia of jailhouse snitch scandal infamy and OCSD violated California’s penal code limiting detentions for civil contempt violations to no more than one year.

According to Nazarzai, Garcia threatened to change his jailhouse wrist band from white to blue—which is worn by accused pedophiles, snitches and sex offenders—if he continued to complain about his treatment.

The plaintiff also alleges OCSD placed in “miniscule cell” called “the hole;” refused access to the exercise yard for six year; denied religious activities; confiscated his prayer rug; and harassed him based on his Muslim faith.

Scott A. Martin, a private lawyer representing OCSD, argues that the sheriff merely obeyed Orange County Superior Court Judge Andrew Banks’ orders compelling Nazarzai’s lengthy detention and, because of U.S. Supreme Court doctrine (Rooker-Feldman), that federal courts have no jurisdiction to interfere with state court decisions in such matters.

The dispute improbably stems from a missing black duffel bag stuffed with $360,540.

In 2009, the California Attorney General’s office (AG) accused Nazarzai and his business partners of conducting a multi-million-dollar boiler room operation in a fraudulent loan modification scam that tricked consumers with deceitful advertising.

Hours after the AG won a temporary restraining order freezing the defendants’ assets, Nazarzai withdrew more than $426,000 from a bank account.

Banks, one of Orange County’s most respected judges, order him to surrender the cash but Nazarzai claimed he couldn’t because he’d given the stuffed duffel bag to his girlfriend and she’d inexplicably lost it after passing out while driving on a Southern California freeway.

In Dec. 2010, the judge considered the explanation a lie, asserted Nazarzai could gain access to the money, held him in contempt and tossed him in the Orange County Jail for a year or until the civil case closed.

Final judgment was entered in July 2012 and five months later Banks issued a new order requiring Nazarzai’s continued confinement until he surrender the cash.

Attempts at the superior court, California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court failed to overturn the rulings.

Banks finally ordered Nazarzai released in Nov. 2016, declaring that further incarceration “would be punitive rather than coercive.”

After the launch of the case, the plaintiff agreed to drop Hutchens and Garcia as named defendants.

Thomas Murphy, Nazarzai’s attorney, told Guilford he expects a seven-day jury trial next April, while Martin and OCSD believe the matter will take 10 days.

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