Ruling 'defeats purpose of a jury'
- J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles - September 13, 2000
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COURTS: Forewoman bemoans the decision that overturned a $1 million verdict.
September 13, 2000
By JOHN McDONALD
Orange County Register
Kathleen Mahoney and 11 other jurors spent 30 days away from their regular jobs to decide the claim by Merritt Sharp that his civil rights were violated by the Garden Grove Police Department and five law-enforcement officers.
"It kind of defeats the purpose of a jury," Mahoney said Tuesday after being informed that Judge Derek W. Hunt had thrown out the $1 million verdict awarded to Sharp. "It was very stressful on us, a big commitment, but it had made me see that what we do as a jury is important. Now the judge does this?"
She said one juror had been kept on the jury for 20 days after her employer refused to continue paying her, and a second juror had had to reschedule her own court case.
Sharp, a former Marine who operated an auto-body shop in Garden Grove for 15 years, was handcuffed and made to lie on the floor in view of his customers and neighboring business owners. He was handcuffed by a team of state parole officers, backed up by Garden Grove police, who had come to search the premises for a meth lab they suspected was being operated by Sharp's son, who was on parole at the time and was found in possession of illegal drugs. But no sign of a lab was discovered.
Mahoney, whose regular job is with the Orange County Department of Human Resources, served as the jury forewoman and still firmly believes that Sharp suffered $1 million in damages.
"It wasn't just 45 minutes; he's suffered for years since then," she said.
She said that she believed the police and parole officers "set up a scam for a bigger and bigger bust." The raid, officially targeting Sharp's son, expanded into a search for guns and stolen vehicles, court documents said.
Deputy Attorney General Robert Helfand, who represented the parole officers, said two stolen cars were found on the lot, but no charges were brought against Sharp.
Hunt ruled that there was insufficient evidence of a conspiracy by police and that most of the constitutional-rights violations claimed by Sharp were the result of orders given by the raid leader, state parole officer Joe Esquival. Esquival, who was assigned to the Orange County Auto Theft Task Force, was improperly a defendant in the lawsuit because he was named after the statute of limitations had expired, Hunt ruled on Tuesday.
Without a conspiracy and with the statute of limitations decision, Hunt ruled that only two officers, a CHP officer and a Garden Grove narcotics officer, could remain as defendants if the case is retried.
Newport Beach lawyer Jerry Steering, Sharp's lawyer, said Hunt's decision is completely in error and will be appealed.
"Either Judge Hunt is terribly mistaken about the case or I'm the greatest lawyer in the world, and I don't think it's the latter," Steering said.
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