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Lawsuit against county fails

Former D.A.’s civil rights claims tossed by federal judge 

A federal judge dismissed former District Attorney Michael Riese’s civil lawsuit against several county and city officials this week.

U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, in a ruling that granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgement and blasted Riese’s arguments against them as “a jumble of conclusory allegations, unsupported assertions, confusing and incomplete cross-references to other opposition briefs,” on Wednesday effectively ended Riese’s campaign against members of the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and Crescent City Police Department stretching back to 2012.

Riese, who said he hadn’t yet read the judge’s opinion when he spoke with the Triplicate on Friday afternoon, said that he’d consider appealing the decision, but referred all additional questions to his attorney.

“Once I consult with counsel, the first approach is going to be to appeal the decision,” Riese said, emphasizing that his attorneys — most recently Howard Churchill of Redding — had argued the case, not him. 

Churchill, the third lawyer to represent 
Riese in this lawsuit, did not return a phone call by press time.

 

The amount of money the county spent on legal fees for the case wasn’t immediately available, but former D.A. Jon Alexander, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, thought it must be “a tremendous amount” and suggested that it could be the county’s responsibility to make sure those are paid by Riese.

“Since the county had to hire all these high-power firms from Sacramento and Redding, I can’t imagine what the legal fees are,” Alexander said. “You would think, given Riese sued us as representatives of the county and lost right out of the gates, that (the county) would have a fiduciary duty to get legal fees out of him. That would seem almost obvious.”

County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr wasn’t available on Friday to discuss the issue of the legal fees.

The suit, which sought more than $1.5 million, claimed Riese’s civil rights were violated as a result of a crusade by former District Attorney Alexander to discredit and humiliate him. The complaint claimed that actions taken by law enforcement before a trial in which Riese was charged for allegedly driving under the influence with his children in the car, violated Riese’s rights through unreasonable search and seizure, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and supervisory liability for constitutional violations. A jury acquitted Riese of the DUI charge in February 2012.

In his 28-page opinion, Orrick wrote that Riese “has wholly failed to identify specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial” — a statement he backed up, line by line, as he broke down all of the charges that Riese had brought and how Riese’s attorney responded to the defendant’s arguments.

For instance, in regard to the unreasonable search and seizure allegation, Riese had claimed that Sgt. Richard Griffin of the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office caused Riese to have his home “ransacked and searched” without a valid search warrant and that Griffin submitted a probable cause affidavit that included false allegations. However, in Riese’s opposition to Griffin’s arguments that there were no false allegations and that the search warrant was properly executed, Orrick notes that Riese doesn’t address Griffin’s claims at all and simply requests that the Court deny Griffin’s motion for summary judgement.

“This is plainly insufficient to withstand summary judgement,” Orrick writes.

Other allegations, like Riese’s malicious prosecution claim against Alexander, were less a casualty of insufficiency as much as they were “fatally flawed,” as Orrick describes it.

To win the allegation, 
Riese would have had to prove that the malicious prosecution was conducted “with the intent to deprive a person of equal protection of the laws or is otherwise intended to subject a person to a denial of constitutional rights.”

For his part, Alexander argued that Riese couldn’t prove that he initiated the prosecution of Riese or that he lacked probable cause. Additionally, Alexander argued, even if Riese could prove those things, Alexander would still be immune because of a government code that protects public employees acting within the scope of their employment.

“If Riese accepts Alexander’s contention that Alexander did not institute or prosecute the criminal prosecution of Riese, then Riese has gutted his claim ...” Orrick writes. “On the other hand, if Alexander instituted or prosecuted the criminal prosecution of Riese, as required for a claim of malicious prosecution, then the claim is barred by Alexander’s absolute immunity for conduct within the scope of his prosecutorial duties.”

Ultimately, Riese said he was “out-lawyered,” to which Alexander essentially agreed, praising both the county’s outside counsel’s dedication to the lawsuit and the county for refusing to settle.

“To their tremendous credit the county did not capitulate in this case and settle out quick and cheap when they could have,” Alexander said. “I’m very grateful to all of our county-retained outside counsel, as well as to Judge Orrick, whose characterization of Riese’s case was both eloquent and supremely accurate.” 

Reach Aaron West at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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