JUDITH A. ODBERT
Senior Associate Attorney
Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller
Former Town of Truckee Police Officer Arthur Munoz achieved a favorable settlement after the Department violated his rights under the Police Officers Bill of Rights Act (POBRA). The Truckee Police Department accused Munoz of drinking while volunteering at a cook-off fundraiser and attempted to terminate his employment. He hired Judith Odbert of Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnsen. She litigated his case in Nevada County Superior Court and in an administrative hearing. Facing a prejudicial discipline review process, Judith Odbert established the Truckee Police Department illegally interrogated Munoz in violation of his POBRA rights. She also negotiated a favorable settlement that overturned Munoz’s termination and awarded him $40,000 in back pay.
Arthur Munoz Participates in Community Fundraising Event
The Rotary Club sponsored a chili cook-off fundraiser on June 24, 2012. Munoz was off duty that day and graciously volunteered. Participants were required to wear some kind of costume to identify with the theme of each booth. Munoz wore a decommissioned Truckee Police Department polo shirt. He also sported khaki shorts, tennis shoes and an old duty belt to hang his barbecue utensils on. To top it off, he had a bright orange toy gun in a holster and broken handcuffs to hang his towel on while he cooked.
Munoz invited another officer from the Department to come to the cook-off. During the cook-off, the officer claimed Munoz took one sip from a beer after using it as an ingredient in the chili. The officer went back to the station and told other officers he saw Munoz drinking in uniform. Word of Munoz’ “drinking” quickly traveled up the ranks to the chief. The chief sent a sergeant to investigate.
The Department Illegally Interrogates Munoz
When the sergeant arrived at the event, he surveilled Munoz but did not observe Munoz drinking. After the initial observation, the sergeant approached Munoz and told him he needed to talk to him. The sergeant led Munoz to a secluded area outside of the booth. The sergeant stated he came to the event because somebody had called the captain and told him Munoz had been drinking at the event. Munoz understood the statement to be a question, and the sergeant later testified he intended to elicit a response from Munoz. Munoz responded that the accusation was ridiculous and he had not been drinking. Munoz even pulled off his sunglasses to show the sergeant his eyes to prove he wasn’t drunk, and he took a PAS in the sergeant’s presence: The results were 0.00 BAC.
Miscommunication Leads to Dishonesty Allegations
The Department charged Munoz with dishonesty for denying he had been drinking at the event. Sustained dishonesty allegations can be fatal to a police officer’s career. Munoz truthfully denied intoxication, but he and the investigating sergeant had a miscommunication. The sergeant used the word “drinking” to question whether Munoz had consumed any alcohol at the event. Munoz believed the sergeant intended to ask whether he was intoxicated, as the word is commonly used. The sergeant’s intended meaning of “drinking” was vague and easily misinterpreted. Consequently, the Truckee Police Department used this as a basis to claim Munoz was dishonest. The Department brought five allegations of policy violations against him.
Munoz Successfully Litigates His Case
Judith Odbert litigated Munoz’s case in Nevada County Superior Court and took the case to an advisory hearing before a hearing officer. PORAC provided funding for the writ. In a deposition, the sergeant admitted being an expert at eliciting Miranda waivers. A common tactic in eliciting a Miranda waiver is to make a statement that would typically elicit a response from the individual being interrogated. That way, the interrogator gets the individual to talk without asking any direct questions. The superior court found the sergeant’s statement to Munoz was designed to elicit a response and constituted an illegal interrogation. Since the sergeant’s interrogation had the potential to lead to punitive action, the Department was required to provide notice of the interrogation, the opportunity to have a representative present, and the opportunity to tape record the interrogation. However, the Department deprived Munoz of these rights. Therefore, the superior court found the Department had illegally interrogated Munoz in violation of his rights under POBRA.
Munoz faced a biased review procedure in challenging his discipline. The Town of Truckee’s personnel rules require the Town manager and the officer’s representative to mutually select a hearing officer. However, if the Town manager and the officer’s representative cannot agree on a hearing officer, the Town manager decides who hears the case. Further, the hearing officer’s decision is merely a recommendation to the Town manager. The Town manager is free to accept, reject, modify or remand the recommendation for further proceedings. The Town manager’s decision is final and binding.
The Town’s attorney proposed to have Jeff Sloan hear the case. Sloan is a prominent labor attorney who has represented numerous public entities in disputes against peace officers. The other proposed hearing officers had similar backgrounds. In the end, Wendy Rouder was chosen as the hearing officer. She is also a labor attorney who specializes in representing public entities against employees, and worked for the same law firm as Jeff Sloan.
Despite the Town of Truckee’s skewed discipline review procedure, Judith Odbert established that the evidence did not support four of the five allegations against Munoz. The hearing officer reasonably found Munoz had not been dishonest at any time during the investigation. Rather, Munoz was professional and truthful in the face of frustrating circumstances.
These victories saved Munoz’s career and helped Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnsen negotiate a favorable settlement for Munoz. The settlement replaced his termination with only a letter of reprimand and the Town of Truckee compensated Munoz with $40,000 back pay. Munoz overcame substantial obstacles to successfully challenge his discipline with help from the PORAC Legal Defense Fund and attorneys of Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnsen.
About the Author
Senior Associate Attorney Judith Odbert represented Arthur Munoz in his advisory hearing and in superior court. She holds a J.D. from the Lincoln Law School and was previously the supervising assistant public defender in the Sacramento County Public Defender’s office. There, she handled litigation and trials including homicides, sexual assaults, gang enhancements, aggravated assaults, domestic violence and general felony practice.
PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.
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- Robert Curato Anderson POA
He did a great job for me!!! He always returned my phone calls within 24-hours. He showed an interest in my case and we were able to get the issue resolved in less than 45 minutes. Thank you for being there when I needed the legal assistance.
- Kevin Hullquist Siskiyou Co. Correctional POA
[My representative] did a good job representing me. Kept me informed.
- Doug Plumhoff Ridgecrest PEA
Great job by all! Always great to know LDF is there when needed.
- Christopher Delaney Upland POA
Your rep was very personal. Even though my case involved something minor, your rep made me [feel] my case was his most important. I am very satisfied with my LDF team.
- Larry Fitch Shasta Co DSA
My LDF rep was great, always returned my calls quickly and kept me up to date with what was going on with the case. Thank you.
- Tyler Robins Pasadena City College POA
At a time when no one cares about you it's nice to have someone on your side who does. (My attorney ) made a stressful six months a lot more tolerable.
- Gary J. Foppiano Oakland POA
[My representative] has been in my corner for 28 years. I have been represented by this firm probably 6 times in my career from minor to major discipline cases with a great outcome for me. They're batting 100%
- Erik Kusmerz Lyon Co SEA
Amazing job, Thank you.
- Evelyn Hooks Shasta CO PPOA
Thank God for the L.D.F.
- Kenneth Nelson Plumas Co SA
Good job. Thank you! [My representative] does an outstanding job representing the employees and seems to be very intimidating to the [County Management]. We like it this way!
- Rachael Van Sloten Oakland POA
LDF is absolutely essential to help make a system that is somewhat broken work more effectively. [My Representative] is excellent and takes a great deal of time to lisen and represent.
- Chris Moore Palo Alto POA
No Complaints. Great Resource.
- Robert Muelberg Denver PPA
I could not have had a better attorney. [My representative ] went way above and beyond his duties. I would not have had a better experience with my representative. I believe that the LDF is the single most important benefit a police officer could have!
- Anthony Zack Vernon POA
This was the first time in my twenty-five year career that I had to use the services of my legal defense fund. My LDF Representative was extremely courteous, informative and professional.. She addressed all of my concerns and answered all of my questions. She did an overall outstanding job of representing me and handling my case. I could not have been any more pleased or satisfied with the job she did! I would definitely request her to represent me in the future if I needed representation.
- Noe Cordero San Diego POA
Thank you for your help. I feel very secure as you assisted me.
- Rachel Tyner Transit EOA of San Diego
All the LDF representatives were very courteous and attentive with a punctual response to all of my concerns, inquiries and appointment scheduling. My representative was very informative about the legalities and kept in contact with me regularly. He was also very patient and straight forward. I would definitely want to use the LDF again and felt more confident through my proceedings because I had representation!
- Nicholas Belliveau Sebastopol POA
High quality service, proficient, well informed. Overall, very happy with experience.
- Anthony Gregori Sonoma Co Jr College P O A
Excellent work and well worth it.
- James Beckman Miracosta College POA
Excellent service everytime.
- Nick Bannister Phoenix LEA
I was extremely grateful for professional representation provided by ( my attorney ) during this extremely stressful situation
- Chad Sakamoto National City POA
Although this incident was unfounded, it's still stressful. My LDF rep kept me informed and kept "work" at work.
- German Alvarez Anaheim PA
[My representative ] was great!
- Daniel Smock Ventura County PPOA
Everything went smooth. I think the current system works very well.
- Carl Miller Clearlake POA
- Christopher M. Fuzie Modesto POA
I was very impressed with the speed at which the case was handled. Thank you!
- Joseph Barrett LA Airport POA
I was very well represented by a professional. I felt well represented and got great advice.
- Paul Hernandez LA Gen Services POA Inc.
[My Representative] was very helpful in my situation and I can't thank him enough.
- Phillip Flores Oxnard POA
My attorney was excellent. I would use her again.
- Keith Braden Los Angeles School Police Mgmt Assn
Great work, no complaints.
- Jack Ellis Lompoc POA
An excellent plan. Very valuable to its members.
- Jorge Garcia San Joaquin Co Corr Officers
No criticism to give. Very well.
- Kenneth S. Blonski East Bay Regional Parks PMA
I was very pleased with my representative.
- Kelly K. Roe San Joaquin Co Corr Officers
[My representative] did a fantastic job at returning my phone calls and keeping me informed of any and all information pertaining to my case. I would recommend him to anyone.
- Martha Tschetter Carson City Sheriffs PA
The LDF process was painless and I was able to get immediate representation in an urgent time of need. Thank you LDF
- Scott Cox Tulare Co DSA
I just want to say [my representative] did a great job! Thank you.
- Malcolm Norrington LA School PA
I am very pleased with LDF and would use and recommend them again and again and again.
- Jay Garacochea Culver City POA
[My representative] not only did he do a great job but he listened to my concerns. He did not force his views or game plan and we worked well w/ each other. We agreed on a goal and achieved it.
- Ricky L. Hemphill Los Angeles School PA
[My representative] was an excellent lawyer.
- Gilbert Salazar Montebello POA
Can’t say enough. Both representatives that I had in 2016 were excellent. ( My attorney ) made himself available to me in late night hours, which made me feel comfortable and at ease. This program is essential to us in law enforcement.
- Juan Espinoza Fresno DSA
[My representative] did a great job. He is both thorough and well educated. I would use him again.
- Rodney Kirkland Oakland POA
Being a police officer in the city of Oakland, I appreciate the services that are offered.
- Kim Jasper Alhambra POA
Excellent service, prompt and courteous.
- Dan McDow San Luis Obispo POA
[My representative] is the poster face representative of the greatest attorney (representative) that anyone could possibly ask for. She gets a 12 out of 10 star rating. Nobody works harder.
- Carlos Gonzalez Oakland POA
Very well informed group.
- Rich Stepper Montana PPA
[ My representative ] was very knowledgeable regarding dept & legal rules regarding officer involved shooting. Provided good legal advice & was very supportive.
- Andrea Salas Sonoma County DSA
[My Representative] was great! Thank you.
- Brian Markert Lakewood Police Indp Guild
I feel that I was very well represented by the LDF regarding a fatal officer involved shooting. Both attorneys assigned to assist me - our guild attorney plus a criminal defense attorney - were very aggressive and helpful. Their work was instrumental in helping me to navigate the criminal and internal investigations so that I could return to full duty status.
- Brent Teasley ERS/Reno PSAEA
[ My representative ] was bogged down with multiple cases when he represented me, but I feel he did an excellent job. I would not have wanted anyone else to represent me during a very troublesome time.
- Sherri Coral Riverside Community College
He was very professional. I trusted him to defend and he did! I am very thankful he was here for me.
- Michael Kan Palo Alto POA
I have always been and will continue to be a strong supporter of LDF and would not work as a police officer without it. I am extremely happy with the service I have received both from LDF and [my representative].
- Christopher Wirth A F G E Border Patrol
LDF referred me to [ representative ] in Spokane, WA. [ Representative ] did an outstanding job representing me. Thank you very much for the referral ! I would not be employed any longer had it not been for [ representative ] and his legal team.”
- Nancy Page Aurora PA
I didn't end up needing his service but he was awesome in what conversations we had before the matter was resolved. Very valuable - LDF!
- Miguel Masso Oakland POA
[I'm very satisfied and grateful] for LDF representing me. My attorney was professional, honest, and very knowledgeable of his profession. During these tough times my attorney would contact me on a regular basis to see how I was doing. This was obviously not part of his job description, but it kept me at ease and not losing my mind. I'm thankful that I was represented by LDF.
- James F. Beland Lake County SDA
- Paul Figueroa Oakland POA
LDF was there when I needed them!! In this litigious world, it's nice to know LDF has GREAT lawyers on our side who look out for us!! [My Representative] is a great attorney and a person I would trust in any circumstance!!!
- Christopher Boyd Carlsbad POA
[My representative] was an outstanding attorney to work with. Even though I did not receive a desirable outcome entirely, I was exceptionally satisfied with his representation. Thank you.
- Christine Farmer Tehama Co DSA
Mine was a fairly simple situation and I may not have needed representative. I am glad I called for help, it gave me peace of mind and reassurance.
- Steven E. Lopez Santa Maria POA
Keep up the Good Work! Your service was extremely helpful to me. Thank you.
- Kip RIngen Lake Co DSA
My LDF rep kept me well informed concerning the progress of my case. I was extremely satisfied with the service I received. Thanks.