It is known as Studio Road, a rocky dirt pathway leading to the site of “Zorro’s Cabin”, where the old Disney TV series was filmed. But for Ventura County Deputy Rene Machado on routine patrol on a hot August afternoon in 1999, it might as well have been called the “Highway to Hell.”
Although he crept carefully along the road at less than 5 mph, the bottom of his unit made contact with something on the treacherous roadway, and fluid emerged from beneath the car. A tow truck was summoned to take the unit in for repairs. Almost immediately, Machado was accused of being dishonest about the circumstances surrounding the accident. The radiator had been damaged to the tune of $1,300, and suspicions were afoot that the unit must have been traveling much faster than the minimal speeds reported by both Machado and his partner. The department subsequently placed Machado on administrative leave, charged him with dishonesty and proposed his termination.
At a predisciplinary hearing, Machado and his attorney, Bill Hadden, of Silver, Hadden & Silver, explained that the damage could easily have been sustained at a very low speed. The radiator, it was shown, was bolted to the frame by small rubber mounts which can give way at low collision speeds, as corroborated by Ford factory mechanics. At the conclusion of the Skelly hearing, Chief Deputy Bruce McDowell dismissed the dishonesty allegations, and directed that Machado be returned to duty.
Nonetheless, the department still chose to impose a 30-day suspension on Machado for the low speed, non-injury accident and for Machado’s failure to fully complete accident paperwork.
On behalf of Machado, Bill Hadden appealed the matter to the Ventura County Civil Service Commission, primarily arguing that the penalty for Machado’s admitted mistakes was grossly excessive. The commission agreed, and reduced the 30-day suspension to five days. The commission proceeded to order that Machado’s back pay and benefits be restored accordingly.
“I am grateful to the commission, the Legal Defense Fund and Bill Hadden for helping me obtain a reasonable outcome,” Machado said, noting, “I once again look forward to going to work each day.