From: The Orange County Register
By Andrew Galvin 8/21/2013
SANTA ANA – The County of Orange is paying nearly $2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by former Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Hunt, who ran against then-Sheriff Mike Carona in 2006, then was demoted to patrol duty after he lost the election.
The agreement by the county to settle the case this month, nearly six years after it began, came after a judge in December awarded Hunt reinstatement to his former rank and back pay.
In that ruling, Judge David T. McEachen of Orange County Superior Court detailed Carona’s campaign of retaliation and intimidation against his election opponent, calling Carona’s conduct “egregious and despicable.”
County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who joined the board in January, said in his inaugural address that the county should not have defended Carona’s actions in court for as long as it did.
In an interview Wednesday, Hunt credited Spitzer for helping to make the settlement happen.
“They have unlimited resources at their disposal to spend to grind you underfoot, and that’s what they try to do,” Hunt said of the county’s legal strategy in his case prior to Spitzer’s joining the board.
Spitzer agreed, saying the county’s risk management office, which oversees the county’s defense in lawsuits, hasn’t been accountable enough to the supervisors. He and Shawn Nelson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, are working on changing how the office keeps supervisors informed about lawsuits, Spitzer said.
In another recent settlement, the county agreed to pay $850,000 to Lyle Wilson, a former investigator for the District Attorney’s Office who waged a decade-long fight for reinstatement and back pay after he was fired in 2002, partly for refusing to drop an investigation into a friend of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
In that case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana wrote that “it would appear the county tried to game the system” by firing Wilson a second time, for a different reason, and backdating discharge papers after a lower court ordered him reinstated.
Hunt, who in 2010 ran unsuccessfully against Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, said Thursday he doesn’t plan to seek election a third time next year.
“I’m done with it,” he said. “I’ve got a family that went through a lot because of my decision to run for sheriff. I’ve got a (private investigation) business that I’m focused on. I’ve had my time in the arena. It’s somebody else’s turn.”
Richard Levine, Hunt’s attorney, said the goal of the settlement, which was signed May 15, “was to place Bill Hunt in the position that he would have been if not for the events that transpired as a result of his political activities.”
To that end, the county agreed to pay the difference between what Hunt would have earned at the Sheriff’s Department and his actual income after he retired in late 2006 rather than accept the demotion. That amount was about $322,000, including $11,000 in penalties, Levine said.
The county also will pay slightly more than $1 million to the Orange County Employees Retirement System to refund pension payments it made to Hunt and contributions the county would have made if Hunt had remained employed. Hunt will begin collecting his pension anew as if he’d retired from the Sheriff’s Department this month.
The settlement includes $660,000 for Hunt’s legal fees, Levine said.
Carona 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 the federal investigation of corruption in the Sheriff’s Department. Carona is serving his 66-month sentence in federal prison.