Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Former Deputy’s Suit Against Sheriff Can Proceed–Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A civil rights suit by a former Orange County sheriff’s lieutenant alleging that Sheriff Michael S. Carona demoted him in retaliation for his remarks during an unsuccessful electoral bid to replace the sheriff can proceed to trial, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled last week.
The court on Oct. 1 denied Carona’s motion to dismiss William J. (Bill) Hunt’s suit accusing Carona and the County of Orange of violating Hunt’s rights to free speech and to engage in political activity without interference, the law firm of Silver, Hadden, Silver, Wexler and Levine announced Friday.
Hunt accuses Carona and the county of demoting him as retribution for his 2006 campaign to unseat Carona as Orange County sheriff-coroner. Carona won the June 6, 2006 election with 50.9 percent of the vote to Hunt’s 26.5 percent, avoiding the need for a runoff election.
The next day, the department placed Hunt on administrative leave in order to conduct a personnel investigation into his conduct during the campaign. Following the service of a notice of pending demotion on Oct. 31 and a pre-disciplinary hearing, the department demoted Hunt on Dec. 22 to the rank of “Deputy Sheriff II” and relieved him as police services chief for the City of San Clemente.
Hunt filed suit on June 18, alleging that the demotion, which reduced his annual salary, benefits and prospective retirement compensation, subjected him to “intolerable and discriminatory working conditions” and changed conditions of employment, as well as professional humiliation and indignity. He sought monetary damages in excess of $72,979.00 per year and reinstatement to his post.
The department in its notice of pending demotion had accused Hunt of violating the department’s policy of fostering public support and citizen cooperation, and of failing to maintain his duty of loyalty as an officer. It claimed Hunt had allowed his ego and disgruntled feelings to overcome his professionalism and loyalty to the department and his superiors, and said his conduct demonstrated a willingness to slander, undermine, and damage the department for the sole purpose of gaining office.
Hunt was criticized for describing the sheriff as a failed leader, labeling the sheriff the source of the department’s problems, and calling the department’s leadership “a laughingstock.”
Santa Monica attorney Richard A. Levine, Hunt’s counsel, said that Hunt had been with the department for over 20 years and was in his third year as a lieutenant at the time of his demotion.
Spokespersons for the county could not be reached for comment.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company