Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Interesting Trial

[First, a plea to you: if you are a juror in the trial described below, please DO NOT READ THIS.  That would contravene Judge Arrieta's instructions and could constitute juror misconduct; and one side or the other might request a mistrial based on your reading of any news coverage.  Don't do it.  If you are a friend or relative of someone on the jury, please don't even mention this post to him or her until after the trial ends!
If you are not a juror, feel free - but forgive me if it's wordy or misses a point or two.  I wrote this hastily, after a full day observing trial, and it's based on my scribbled and sometimes legible notes]

 Las Cruces (June 25) -- The Court denied a defense request for a mistrial this afternoon in Granados v. Dona Ana County.
      The case arises from allegations by former Director of Public Works Jorge Granados that his termination by the County was discriminatory and was retaliation for a series of complaints by him, many on behalf of his supervisees.  The County denies the allegations and contends he was properly dismissed based on performance, including allegations of destruction of documents, dishonesty, and insubordination.
      Granados's allegations largely concern alleged conduct by Sue Padilla, who became Deputy City Manager while he worked here.  He claims that particularly after he relayed a discrimination claim by one of the men he supervised, Ms. Padilla targeted him and his department.  He testified that she verbally abused them, calling them liars and thieves and calling him a dog.
      Evidence showed that Mr. Granados, who grew up in Brazito, graduated from NMSU then went to California to get his engineering certificate.  He worked 17 years in California, where he supervised perhaps 150 employees, but then took the job with Dona Ana County so as to return home,.  He apparently worked for the County from 2004 until 2008 without incident.  He received no formal evaluations, but testified that he succeeded in improving communications and teamwork in his department, which he said had been somewhat under fire at the time he was hired to run it.
      In 2008 there was an incident in which two workers from his department attended some training out of the county.  One had been approved to attend it at county expense.  The other had not.  According to his testimony, she asked if she could take leave and attend it at her own expense, and he agreed to that.  Statements by county sources today suggest that she eventually sought and perhaps obtained reimbursement and/or pay for her time.  (On December 3, 2008 he was formally reprimanded for "insubordination and dishonesty" in connection with this.)
      At roughly this time, he testified, Ms. Padilla called the road workers "liars and thieves" and made various allegations against his department, which allegations were never substantiated.
      At one point, he said, one of his supervisees came to him and stated that Ms. Padilla had directed that in future neither Mr. Granados nor the supervisee, Road Department supervisor Armando Cordero, could any longer be "hearing officers" with regard to disciplinary actions.  He stated that Mr. Cordero "found it offensive because no one but  Caucasian hearing officers would be hearing disciplinary actions involving Hispanics."
      He recounted a "counseling session" requested by one woman who reported directly to him.  At the session, supervisors were saying they were being harassed by Ms. Padilla and had a totally hostile work environment.  One, Armando Cordero, reportedly said he was experiencing a completely hostile work environment due to the grievance Mr. Granados had passed on for him.   Another, Misty Dawn Benavidez, reportedly said she was afraid to come to him about such allegations because of what Ms. Padilla was doing or would do to him.  He said he saw a third "tear up" while discussing the situation.
      Once during the morning's testimony, Mr. Granados broke down and cried when testifying about about road-workers under his supervision working very hard but being subjected to allegations that they were "liars and thieves."  Judge Manuel I Arrieta ordered a short recess.
      He testified that he approached Human Resources, County Counsel, and County Manager Brian Haines concerning these matters, but "was not getting anywhere."
      He testified that in 2009 internal auditor Milton Duran did an extensive audit of his department, at Ms. Padilla's request.  In the audit report, issued in 2010 Mr. Duran found no significant findings, and commended the department both for good work and for responsiveness to his suggestions.  He testified that Ms. Padilla was "very irritated that there were no negative findings."  Within a short time, he testified, Mr. Duran was fired.
      In October 2009 he discussed the situation with a temporary Human Resources Director who he says told him "to stick around and fight for your staff" when Mr. Granados said how tired he was.
      The next day, he testified, he was called and told to report to a meeting, where he received "my first and only evaluation."  The City Manager and Assistant City Manager "proceeded to just rip me apart verbally in that evaluation."   He said he felt "belittled," "humiliated," and "retaliated on."
      In June 2010 he was called and ordered to report to another meeting, where he was presented with a formal document stating the county's intent to terminate his employment.  In the meantime he was suspended, and a Deputy County Counsel watched him pack up his office then escorted him from the building.
      The notice of termination listed four basic shortcomings, including insubordination and dishonesty in connection with the training incident; destruction of documents; and mishandling of a discrimination complaint.
      The documents involved a situation in which two road department foremen had yelled at each other.  Once claimed "workplace violence."  Investigation by the Sheriff's Office showed that while other employees had heard shouting from behind closed doors, they had seen no violence.  A third foreman was exonerated, and Mr. Granados gave the other two "verbal warnings."  Under county procedures these are kept in the files of the originating department.  More serious "written reprimands" are placed in employees' personnel files.  It was these documents Mr. Granados apparently was accused of destroying.  He testified that when he received the Notice he retrieved the documents and presented them at his hearing.
      The discrimination issue apparently involved his alleged failure to file a report of a claim of discrimination.  According to his testimony, he was told that an Anglo road worker wasn't able to understand all the Spanish spoken in his work crew and felt overworked.  Mr. Granados and the Road Department supervisor agreed that the man should be transferred to a group where mostly English was spoken.  This was done.  Mr. Granados testified that he ordered the Road Department supervisor to follow up on the matter, and received a report that the Anglo worker was satisfied with the new arrangement.
      Mr. Granados testified that he requested a two-week delay in his termination hearing, because a key witness would be on vacation and unavailable.  The request was denied.  He thereafter received from that witness affidavits
      County Manager Brian Haines presided at the termination hearing.  Mr. Granados said that he was "constantly interrupted when he tried to put in evidence   He said that when he presented the fellow employee's affidavits, Mr. Haines threw them down as if he didn't care.  Two days later he was told that Mr. Haines was going to uphold the recommendation to terminate Mr. Granados.
      Late in the afternoon. Mr. Granados testified concerning financial and emotional damage he had suffered.
He went "six months and 23 days" without work, and eventually had to take work in California.  During the interim, he said, the family was "no longer turning on the air conditioning, just to make ends meet" and "rationing down to very simple meals.  If I had not received a job, we were going to lose our home.  This was weighing very heavily on me, knowing I would not even be able to provide a roof for my family."
      "It made me feel as if I had betrayed my family by standing up for others -- it actually made me feel guilty at times," he added.
       He testified that while getting a job in Fresno ended the worry about providing for the family, it was emotionally more difficult because he was separated from his wife and daughters.  In part because they'd used part of the kids' college fund to survive after his termination, his wife remained here so that his elder daughter, about to graduate from high school, could still get in-state tuition at NMSU, rather than having to pay some much higher rate elsewhere or out-of-state tuition here.
        During some of this testimony about his emotional-distress damage claim, he voice trembled again, he again sniffled, and he appeared to shed some tears.
        Just before 5 p.m., out of the jury's presence, Mr. Carrillo moved for a mistrial, citing the tears, saying "the jury is tainted" and alleging that Plaintiff was "engaging in theatrics."
    Judge Arrieta immediately denied the motion.  He stated that since the morning interruption, he'd merely seen Mr. Granados "sniffle, and his voice has broken, but he retained composure generally."  He added that as a trial lawyer he'd seen much more disruptive shows of emotions, and that what he'd seen today was "not a basis for a mistrial.  I don't think it's theatrics."
    The trial will continue tomorrow morning.
                                                                    - 30 -
      The foregoing is takes the form of a news story.  Reportage, not a column.  It may seem more favorable to Plaintiff than to Defendant; but it's Plaintiff's innings now.  Plaintiff will present a series of witnesses.  Defendant will get to cross-examine Mr. Granados tomorrow, and eventually present witnesses in defense of the County.  In short, the trial is not yet over.  The County may present strong evidence to rebut or explain some of what Mr. Granados has said.  The fat lady has definitely not sung.
      Having said that, let me add that it's sad that no other member of the public, and no representative of any news outlet (except, for awhile in the afternoon, Diana Alba Soular from the Sun-News), watched the proceedings.  (Ms. Soular did write a good article on the opening of the trial.)  Sadly, modern economizing doesn't permit (and public indifference doesn't encourage) the kind of coverage such a trial would once have warranted.   Decades ago there would have been numerous print, radio, and/or TV journalists present.  Too, members of the public might well have wandered in.  There was even a time (before Internet, before TV, maybe before radio) when trials were a major form of public entertainment, and folks regularly attended them just for the drama.  
       This one involves serious allegations against the County.  Are they true or not true?  Some of you reading this should be there figuring that out for yourself, and deciding whether or not (whatever the result of the trial itself, which could turn one way or the other on legal technicalities) the problems alleged by Mr. Granados and several other former employees are real and serious.


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