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Former California Assistant Sheriff Awarded $183,688 in Backpay Despite State and Federal Convictions

The California Court of Appeal has held that former Orange County Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo is entitled to backpay of $183,688.66 from the time he was improperly fired from the sheriff’s department in March 2004 until he pleaded guilty to two state-law felonies in January 2007.

The appellate court found that Jaramillo was fired without notice and without an opportunity to administratively appeal, in violation of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act, and that the crimes to which he later pleaded guilty could not be used retroactively as grounds to deny him backpay.

Jaramillo, who had previously worked for the Garden Grove Police Department for 14 years, was one of a handful of “assistant” sheriffs appointed by Mike Carona after Carona was elected Sheriff of Orange County in 1998. The appointment was in effect a quid pro quo in exchange for Jaramillo agreeing to run Carona’s campaign.

After being elected, Sheriff Carona called on Jaramillo to run interference with the district attorney’s office when the son of Don Haidl, another assistant sheriff, was accused of raping a comatose 16-year-old girl. Despite having misgivings, Jaramillo reluctantly complied with Carona’s request, but to no avail. Haidl’s son and two other defendants were prosecuted and convicted of rape and other offenses.

Ultimately, Carona and Jaramillo had a falling out over what Jaramillo regarded as Carona’s practice of selling badges – “get-out-of-jail-free cards” – to campaign donors. No longer viewing Jaramillo as a loyal follower, Carona fired him on March 17, 2004, making reference to a document Jaramillo had signed that classified him as an “at-will” employee.

Jaramillo filed suit a year later, claiming his termination was unlawful. The following year he was the subject of state and federal prosecutions, charging him with, among other crimes, misappropriating public funds and lying to a grand jury about a $10,000 gift his wife had received (state charges), and filing a false tax return and honest services fraud (federal charges). In 2007 he pleaded no contest to the state charges and guilty to the federal charges. The honest services fraud charge was later dismissed by the Ninth Circuit on appeal.

Sheriff Carona also faced public corruption charges, and was convicted and sentenced to 5½ years in prison and a $125,000 fine in April 2009. [See: PLN, Nov. 2009, p.38; Feb. 2009, p.1; July 2008, p.30]

The Court of Appeals determined that because Jaramillo had pleaded guilty to crimes that had nothing to do with the reasons why he was terminated, they could not be used retroactively as “after acquired evidence,” or to justify an “unclean hands” defense, to argue that he was not qualified for the job he was appointed to perform.

“None of the wrongful conduct to which Jaramillo has admitted was related to his summary termination on March 17, 2004 by Carona,” the appellate court wrote.

Thus, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s award of $183,688.66 in backpay to Jaramillo, as well as $336,800 in attorney fees and $8,400 in costs. See: Jaramillo v. County of Orange, 200 Cal.App.4th 811, 133 Cal.Rptr.3d 751 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 2011), review denied.

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Related legal case

Jaramillo v. County of Orange