Woodlake Officer Trial Won’t Go to Supreme Court

The City of Woodlake won’t be making it to the Supreme Court anytime soon.

On June 19, the United States Supreme Court denied the City of Woodlake’s petition to consider the suit brought against Chief of Police Mike Marquez and Lieutenant Joe Agauyo.

According to Garibay’s attorneys, Maggie Melo and John Sarsfield, the case now gets kicked right back to where it started, the Tulare County Superior Court. The Supreme Court only agrees to hear ten percent of the cases submitted so they were not surprised by the decision.

Melo said that she was happy with the decision because the county court system can do more justice than if the case were heard by the Supreme Court.

The Woodlake Police Department fired Garibay in February of 2015 for “committing acts that brought discredit to the department.” Garibay filed suit for wrongful termination in October of 2015. Garibay alleges that his civil rights were violated when the police department conducted an intrusive investigation into his relationship with a woman who had no connection with the police department.

Melo and Sarsfield, allege that Garibay was actually fired in retaliation for his relationship with the wife of a friend of the Woodlake City Manager, Ramon Lara.

Telling a subordinate with whom you can socialize “is a violation of the First Amendment,” Sarsfield said.

From the beginning Woodlake has tried to get the case dismissed. Back in 2015 the city petitioned the Tulare County Supreme Court to dismiss the case, but Judge Bret Hillman allowed Garibay’s claim to go forward.

Woodlake then asked the Court of Appeals, in Fresno, to review Hillman’s ruling. After a few months, and briefings by both sides, the court did not reverse Hillman’s ruling.

The city then challenged that decision by heading to the California Supreme Court — which joined the Fresno court in allowing Hillman’s ruling to stand. The United States Supreme Court was their last chance.

At issue is whether the Woodlake Chief of Police and Lieutenant violated the Garibay’s constitutional right to privacy and freedom of association under the First Amendment.

Melo said that while waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision they have continued working. Right now the suit is in discovery. Melo and Sarsfield have requested from the City of Woodlake, as part of their discovery process, the department’s handbook on Policy and Procedurals. According to Melo many agencies have a ‘morals clause’ and hopes Woodlake’s handbook defines what the city meant when they fired Garibay for “acts that brought discredit to the department.”

“To what do employees look when searching for guidelines on ‘good morals?’” asked Melo, “the Bible, the employee handbook?”

Melo and Sarsfield intend to look at past cases of officers violating the city’s morals clause and ascertain if those individuals were also fired or disciplined.

The City of Woodlake was expected to provide its discovery documents by the last week of June.

Even though it would save the city thousands of dollars, Woodlake has refused mediation. The city can change its mind when faced with the prospect of its police officers getting deposed under oath.

“We have always been amenable to go to mediation,” said Melo.

The trial date is set for December 11, 2017

Garibay was hired by the Woodlake Police Department in May, 2012. During his employment  he racked up many honors. He was named Officer of the Year three times, by the Knights of Columbus in 2013, by the Police Officers Association in 2012, and also by the Woodlake City Council in 2013. He received the Mothers Against Drunk Driving award twice for making the most arrests for driving under the influence.

Garibay served two tours of duty, four years in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. During his service he received 11 medals, of which the Combat Infantry Badge he is most proud.

“Not many people have those,” said Melo.

3 thoughts on “Woodlake Officer Trial Won’t Go to Supreme Court

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  1. Good gawd….if everyone’s skeletons were brought up publicly, I’m sure MANY would have been dismissed up to this point.
    What I do not get, is the last part of the article that states his service duty and awards. That has nothing to do with the fact he allegedly was having an affair.
    Just my opinion

  2. Obviously it proves what a great person he is and what a great job he did prior to termination… duh
    Who cares who he slept with? No ones business but his.

  3. His getting a fair trial in a Tulare county court would be in question, I think. From personal experience as a plaintiff at one time, finding a truly impartial jury will be the main issue. Maybe things have changed for the better over the years, but as long as you have a jury pool who believes that government officials are right, then there is little potential for a fair and impartial verdict.

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