From: The Orange County Register
By Andrew Galvin 12/12/2012
SANTA ANA – In a judge’s ruling that details former Sheriff Mike Carona’s campaign of intimidation and retaliation against an election opponent, former sheriff’s Lt. Bill Hunt has won reinstatement to that rank and back pay in a lawsuit against the County of Orange.
Hunt, who headed police services in San Clemente, ran against Carona for sheriff in 2006 and lost. After the election, he was demoted three ranks to deputy and assigned to patrol in Stanton. He retired rather than take the demotion.
Judge David T. McEachen of Orange County Superior Court ordered in a Dec. 7 decision “that Hunt be reinstated to his previous position at the same, or a geographically equivalent location without delay, with full back wages and benefits, calculated at $280,619.00, plus performance-based raises for the years 2004 to 2006.” McEachen also awarded $50,000 in penalties and said Hunt is entitled to attorney fees.
While finding that “Carona’s conduct was egregious and despicable,” McEachen lamented that he was “unable to award any damages payable by Carona himself,” saying the applicable law “excludes individuals from payment of penalties – even those that result from their own malicious behavior.”
Hunt intends to return to work at the Sheriff’s Department, said his attorney, Richard Levine. “We were very pleased with the judge’s decision,” Levine said.
Hunt, who runs a private investigation firm, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
The amount of back wages awarded by McEachen is the difference between what Hunt would have earned at the Sheriff’s Department and his actual income from his pension and private sector work, Levine said. The case was brought under the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.
County spokesman Howard Sutter said “the county is carefully reviewing the judge’s written decision and will be evaluating its options.”
Carona, 57, was sheriff for nine years before he was indicted in 2007 on six felony corruption counts, including theft of honest services of an elected official, conspiracy and tampering with a witness. In 2009, a federal jury found Carona not guilty of five counts, but convicted him of witness tampering for trying to persuade a former top aide and one-time friend – Don Haidl – to lie for him during a federal investigation of corruption in the Sheriff’s Department. Carona is serving his 66-month sentence in federal prison.
After Carona resigned, Hunt applied for his job, but the county’s Board of Supervisors in 2008 appointed Sandra Hutchens, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s division chief. Hunt sought to oust Hutchens in the 2010 election, but lost.
Hunt’s lawsuit against the county and Carona went to a bench trial before McEachen in September and October. “Trial testimony graphically and convincingly demonstrated the power wielded by Carona, although it was Hunt who was endorsed by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs,” McEachen wrote.
Hunt’s campaign website promised to “restore integrity and trust to the Sheriff’s Department.” His campaign “advocated fairness and loyalty to the department, as opposed to an individual, and promotions based on merit instead of friendship,” McEachen wrote.
After Carona decided to run for re-election, he denied Hunt a merit-pay increase for which he was qualified, removed Hunt from various committees and ordered Hunt to submit the names of supporters, who then suffered consequences, McEachen wrote.
“By way of example, supporter Lieutenant Bardzik was involuntarily transferred to a far less desirable position, denied a merit increase and denied promotion; Sergeant Nin was hounded by his supervisor … removed from his 12-year assignment in the mounted horse detail and demoted,” McEachen wrote. Other supporters were denied transfers or reassigned because they supported Hunt, the judge found.
Hunt initially sued the county and Carona in federal court for violating his free speech rights. That case was dismissed in 2009 by a federal judge who found that, as a policymaker within the department, Hunt had limited free speech rights. The dismissal was affirmed in February by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that Hunt wasn’t a policymaker but Carona could “reasonably but mistakenly” have believed that political loyalty was required for someone with Hunt’s job.
Hunt’s claims under the Peace Officers Bill of Rights were severed from the initial case by a federal judge and later pursued in state court, Levine said.