Is Mono County trying to cover something up or is defense attorney Katie Maloney Bellomo trying to make the personnel hearing of Dick Luman as burdensome and costly to the County as possible? Those were the arguments that Bellomo and County Counsel John-Carl Vallejo bickered about on Wednesday morning as the hearing continued into its fifth day.
The parties reconvened on April 18, following a cancellation of the April 13 hearing date due to weather.
Last week the personnel appeals board had voted to overturn a previous ruling it had made, and decided that it would now allow new evidence not initially presented to come forward in the appeal. This determination flung the hearing into turmoil, and Bellomo had requested time to regroup and decide whom else she would need to subpoena for questioning.
Vallejo stated he had one document and one additional witness, District Attorney George Booth, to add to his case.
By Wednesday Bellomo had requested 10 additional subpoenas in addition to the more than 10 she had requested at the beginning of the hearing, which was the reason behind Vallejo’s comments about burden to the County.
“Ms. Bellomo is on a fishing expedition; she’s just subpoenaing everyone,” Vallejo said. “The County is just worried about an undo waste of resources.”
Bellomo, however, pointed out that it was the County that asked that new evidence be allowed.
“I didn’t move to expand the scope of the case,” she said. “It’s not a delay tactic on our end.”
She added, however, that now that the door had been opened she wanted to investigate everything thoroughly.
“What’s being hidden here, what’s going on behind the scenes,” Bellomo asked. “Is the Sheriff’s Department catering to one of the parties in the case?”
Bellomo was referring to the reports taken by the Sheriff’s Department at the time of the incident that were then transferred to the District Attorney’s office. The validity of those reports in conjunction with the transcripts from the York Insurance investigation was brought into question.
Since day one of the hearing, Bellomo has raised questions about the outside interviewer who was brought in to investigate the incident in relation to workers compensation. Steve Woods, the investigator brought in, was employed by York Insurance Company, which had some connection to the County. During her cross examination of Mono County CAO Jim Arkens in the first week of the hearing, Bellomo had asked whether or not York was the County’s insurance agency dealing with worker’s compensation at the time of the investigation. Arkens stated that York was not the insurance company but the County’s third party administrator.
“Trindel is our insurance company,” Arkens said. “York doesn’t determine if we will pay a claim, they just process it once Trindel decides.”
Vallejo saw this as one of the reasons why the County needed to defend itself against alleged bias, which was why he fought for the new evidence to be allowed.
On Wednesday, the appeals board approved nine of the 10 new subpoenas Bellomo was requesting. The only one they did not allow her to issue was the subpoena for Undersheriff Ralph Obenberger.
Obenberger is sitting on the appeals board, and as County Counsel to the Board, Stacey Simon pointed out, “If Mr. Obenberger is going to be subpoenaed then it puts the Board in an awkward position.”
Bellomo, however, felt that Obenberger should step down from the Board since he would be called to judge people in his own department.
“He should have stepped down from the start,” Bellomo said. “The appearance of propriety and fairness is very important as a judge. You don’t get to judge if you made decisions in the case. It is necessary to call Obenberger because whatever is going on here goes to the top.”
However, she conceded to the Board’s decision to have him carry on at the dais.
One of the witnesses whom Bellomo called on Wednesday was Deputy Mark Hanson. Hanson was responsible for interviewing the parties present at the incident in the days directly after it occurred. He spoke with Brett McCurry, Jerry Vande Brake, Mike Rhodes, Jim Kerby and Dick Luman.
Hanson wrote up a report detailing these interviews. He turned in his report to his superiors at the Sheriff’s Department. Since parties involved in the incident wanted to prosecute one another, the report was passed on to the District Attorney’s office. According to Hanson, this was standard protocol.
In that original report, Hanson wrote that McCurry was the aggressor, not Luman based upon recollections from all parties except McCurry.
“Luman acted in self defense based upon the witness statements I received,” Hanson said. “McCurry blocked Luman’s exit from the office, which caused the hands-on approach. If McCurry had let Luman leave the room, the fight would not have happened.”
After Woods interviewed the parties later on, Hanson was asked to listen to the transcripts from these interviews and write a supplemental report on anything that had changed from his original interviews.
“Jerry Vande Brake’s story changed the most significantly,” Hanson testified. “Which is why I wrote the first supplemental report.”
According to Hanson, when he interviewed Vande Brake his account of what had happened was that McCurry had blocked Luman from leaving the room. However, in the transcripts from the Woods’ interview, Vande Brake stated that Luman had walked rapidly toward McCurry and that Luman was the aggressor.
“If Vande Brake had said this during my interview with him, it would have changed the outcome of my report,” Hanson said.
Hanson concluded by saying that by the end of the incident he felt that it was mutual combat because both men were holding onto each other saying, “let go.” He clarified, however, that mutual combat doesn’t necessarily mean that both people are being aggressive.
Several more witnesses were called following Hanson. The day was expected to end with additional questioning of Vande Brake.
Due to scheduling conflicts the hearing will not resume until June.