On August 17th, a federal district court jury found for El Paso County against plaintiff John Huntz. Huntz, a former El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant, had sued his former boss, Sheriff Bill Elder and the County for alleged retaliation following his wife’s complaint of sexual harassment.
On the bright side, the jury’s decision saved the taxpayers the cost of an award had it gone in favor of the plaintiff (the citizens still have to eat the bill for the cost of defending against the lawsuit).
In an article in the Colorado Springs Gazette, First Assistant County Attorney Diana May advised in a written statement:
“The Board of County Commissioners directed the County Attorney’s Office to aggressively defend the county against this frivolous employment claim over the past two years and at the direction of the commissioners we will continue to aggressively defend the county against all frivolous claims.”
That statement raises so many important questions.
If the Huntz Claim Was Frivolous, Then Do Settled Claims Have Merit?
If the county “aggressively defends” itself against frivolous suits, then when it breaks out the checkbook and “settles out of court,” are those cases non-frivolous? Do settlements result only when a case is considered serious and threatens the county with a major cash award (which really means significant political embarrassment)?
If so, then here’s a list of some of the more sobering cases against EPSO that the county seemed afraid to litigate, never casting them as “frivolous:”
- Former Inmate Injured in Custody Settles for $675,000.00
- ‘El Paso County to pay $190K after keeping people jailed for $55 fee’
- Former EPSO Employee Allegedly Sexually Harassed and Suffered Retaliation for Complaining About the Harassment Settles for $68,000.00
It will be interesting to see if the County Commissioners consider the following matters as frivolous or if they rush instead to the bargaining table with stacks of taxpayer money in suitcases to settle as fast as possible:
- Workplace Discrimination Suit Against Elder by a Former LT
- ACLU Class Action Suit on Behalf of Illegal Immigrants Unlawfully Held in County Jail
- Likelihood of a Lawsuit Against Elder for Political Retaliation Against Former EPSO Sergeant
- Former Jail Deputy Alleges Racial Discrimination and Retaliation
Something tells me the county is really worried about the last case mentioned above, the one where racial discrimination is alleged. Right on cue, the Gazette went for the plaintiff’s jugular with this story over the weekend: ‘Ex-deputy suing El Paso County Sheriff’s Office was facing second accusation of excessive use of force.’
By the way, don’t be fooled by the money argument when it inevitably surfaces. As I noted in a recent post, the County couldn’t care less about wasting taxpayer money. Every settlement decision is a political calculus. Nothing more, nothing less. Read, ‘Sheriff Elder’s Endless Lawsuits: Dirty Little Secrets County Officials Don’t Want You to Know.’
If the Huntz Claim was Frivolous, Then Why Did the Judge Allow It to Go to Trial?
When a court allows a civil claim to go as far as a trial before a jury, it means the judge agrees the plaintiff has a case with merit as well as a reasonable chance at prevailing in court. Courts do not normally allow frivolous cases to get as far as the Huntz case went.
In fact, there are serious, potential penalties for filing frivolous lawsuits to include fines, contempt charges, and sanctions against attorneys and their firms for bringing such cases forward. To suggest this case was frivolous calls into question the wisdom of the federal judge who allowed it.
The El Paso County Attorney’s claim that the Huntz case was frivolous sounds more like political rhetoric and bravado than a serious legal statement.
If the Huntz Claim was Frivolous, Then Why Did the County Aggressively Get It Postponed a Couple Times?
If memory serves me right, the Huntz case was supposed to be litigated before the El Paso County GOP General Assembly in March 2018. But then I came along and upset the Establishment’s equilibrium.
They couldn’t risk an embarrassing lawsuit before the delegates cast their votes, right? So, the trial was moved out to April of 2018.
With the lawsuit out of the way, Bill Elder expected to sail through the Assembly and knock me out of running with 85% of the delegate vote (according to many of his insiders). Except that didn’t happen. I ended up on the ballot with him, meaning he now faced a primary challenge in June of 2018.
So, what does the County do? Why, it moves the trial date once again, this time to beyond the June 26th primary. August would be safe, assuming Elder won the primary as he did.
My only surprise was that the County didn’t manage to push it past the November General Election. Maybe they tried for all we know and the judge told them to knock off the political nonsense.
But if the Huntz case was so unserious, so pointless, why go through the gyrations of postponements and delays?
Nah, I’m not buying the “frivolous” claim. This case had them sweating grenades.
If they were as confident before the trial as they make it sound after the trial, they would have predicted this outcome and rushed to court instead of stalling it they way they did.
Not to be lost in all this is how the County Cabal – County Attorney and Commissioners – so casually used the levers and pulleys of government to effect a political outcome, to put the thumb on the scale for their preferred candidate.
Sergeant Keith Duda was fired because he allegedly engaged in politics on the job (although he never did). Let’s face it, his real crime was supporting the wrong candidate, in his off-duty time. You know, exercising that pesky First Amendment right.
Meanwhile, the County Cabal used their official power, and YOUR taxpayer money, to move the political football in the direction they desired and no one has held them accountable…yet.