In October of 2015 Daniel Garabay filed suit for wrongful termination from the Woodlake Police Department. 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 department.
Garibay’s lawyers, Maggie Melo and John Sarsfield, allege that he was 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.
For the last two years Woodlake has appealed the case all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. In early pretrial maneuvering the City, its Chief of Police, Mike Marquez, and Police Lieutenant, Jose Aguayo, apparently didn’t like the rulings being made by the Honorable Brett Hillman that went against them.
They appealed Judge Hillman’s order all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case this past June.
Woodlake’s response? Sue Garibay.
On July 24, the City of Woodlake, Marquez and Aguayo filed a separate federal lawsuit seeking “declaratory relief” against former police officer Daniel Garibay.
“Declaratory relief” is a request to have a court–in this case, the federal district court for the Eastern District of California–give an opinion on whether certain conduct is lawful or not.
Marquez’ federal complaint describes the facts and circumstances that lead up to Garibay’s termination from the Woodlake Police Department in April of 2015. Their complaints revolve around when Marquez learned that Garibay was dating a friend of the City Manager’s wife.
By filing their own federal lawsuit, Marquez, Aguayo and the City of Woodlake want the federal court to declare that there is no constitutional right to engage in an affair.
Garibay is not and has never been married.
The city’s lawsuit contains some peculiarities. First, it is completely silent about the ongoing wrongful termination/civil rights lawsuit that Garibay himself filed against Woodlake, Marquez and Aguayo in Tulare County Superior Court back in October of 2015.
At that time, Aguayo and Marquez sought to have Garibay’s suit tossed out on the same grounds that they are now raising with the federal court.
Garibay’s case against Woodlake, and Woodlake’s case against Garibay, are now happening simultaneously. Garibay is expected to respond to the federal lawsuit no later than Friday, September 15. Garibay’s case against the City is back in Tulare County Superior Court on Thursday, September 14 for a Mandatory Settlement Conference.
If Woodlake refuses to settle the city will face a very expensive trial. Trial date of Garibay’s Tulare County’s case against Marquez and the City is set for December 11.
This all translates into huge legal bills.
Despite several requests by this paper, the City has refused to reveal how much money it has spent defending this case–but some legal experts estimate that with trips to the Court of Appeals, California Supreme Court, US Supreme Court, and now, a new related federal lawsuit, that the City’s legal bill is likely in the $150,000.00 range, if not significantly higher.
Woodlake continues to rack up legal fees despite a tight budget.
“We have five major projects in the city including water, roads and a community center among others,” City Administrator Ramon Lara recently told the Visalia Times-Delta.
“For now, things are tight,” he continued.
Lara also told Valley Voice reporter Nancy Vigran that expenses have risen, such as insurance and workman’s compensation.
In the past year or so, the City has seen a reduction of staff in city hall, the police department and outside consultants, he added. Woodlake is looking to bolster its balance sheet by passing two sales tax measures. The council also voted to put on the ballot a cannabis cultivation tax.
Even though it would save the city thousands of dollars, Woodlake has refused mediation, according to Garibay’s attorneys.
“We have always been amenable to go to mediation,” said Melo.
The City could change its mind when faced with the prospect of its police officers getting deposed under oath.
According to his attorneys, those depositions may prove Garibay’s claim that the City’s “morale clause” is being selectively applied.
He alleges that he is the only officer to have been fired for what the City defines as having an affair, even though he alleges others employed at Woodlake’s Police Department have engaged in the same behavior.
When Melo and Sarsfield were asked if they plan to present evidence to support that Garibay is being singled out they replied, “We expect to. [That] might be why they are fighting so hard.”
After being fired for “adultery” by Marquez, Garibay, a US Army combat veteran and highly decorated Woodlake police officer, was quickly hired by another police agency and remains employed to this day.