Tuesday, February 26, 2008

County Settles Lawsuit With Jones

Local attorney gets $22,500 after being arrested by Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris at public forum in 2006

Photo by Rob Clement


View the arrest video

By Daryl Kelley
Local attorney Cathy Elliott Jones has settled the $10-million civil rights claim she filed against the Ojai Police Department after the police chief pulled her from a candidates’ forum he said she was disrupting and arrested her in October 2006.
“A settlement was reached with her for $22,500 simply for economic reasons,” said Alan Wisotsky, whose Oxnard firm represents the county Sheriff’s Department, which provides police protection in Ojai. “For our firm to get involved, the costs would have been considerably greater.”
Wisotsky said he doubted that Jones could have won her civil case, “but the costs far outweighed the nuisance value settlement.”
He said the case was essentially settled through Jones’ negotiations with the county risk-management department, instead of by county lawyers.
Jones’ case against the city and county and several other defendants, including forum hosts, the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Ojai Valley News, was dismissed by a Superior Court judge because of the settlement, according to a court record filed last week.
Jones refused comment this week.
But in her civil rights claim, she alleged that she was illegally and forcibly seized and unlawfully arrested by Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris after refusing to sit down and stop talking during the Oct. 16, 2006 candidates’ forum.
When Jones mistakenly thought that her written question to candidates was being misread, she objected and refused to stop talking when confronted by Norris. The police chief then pulled her outside of Chaparral Auditorium, where she was handcuffed and arrested for allegedly interfering with a public meeting and resisting a peace officer.
Jones, who was recovering from an appendectomy, was taken to Ventura County Medical Center for examination, but was soon released. Later, her attorney said she had been bruised and traumatized by the incident, her reputation tarnished, and her right to speak at a public forum denied.
County prosecutors refused to file criminal charges against Jones, and she filed a legal claim against the city of Ojai in March of last year. Her lawsuit against eight defendants was filed in September. Defendants were never served with the suit, but legally she had one year to serve them, Wisotsky said.
Wisotsky said that prosecutors declined to file criminal charges because Jones had been arrested for disrupting a public meeting, but that the candidates’ forum was not legally a public meeting, but instead a campaign event and the same rules may not apply.
“This was one of those technicalities in the criminal system and she probably could have been arrested (and prosecuted) under the Election Code,” Wisotsky said, “but she wasn’t.”
Instead, prosecutors declined to file that charge and county officials declined to fight the lawsuit once a low settlement offer was made, he said.
“If it was a serious policy issue and not a fracas in the sleepy town of Ojai, we would have gone forward,” the county lawyer said. “The fact is Capt. Norris could establish that he had probable cause (to think a crime was being committed.) We certainly had plenty of issues to raise. But at $22,500 the economics just didn’t make sense.”
Wisotsky said he’d like to try all cases he thinks the Sheriff’s Department can win, and that for decades the county did, but stopped because of costs. Still, the number of cases against deputies has dropped dramatically because of the county’s position to fight most cases, he said.
When Jones filed her legal claim last year, her attorney, Neal Safran, said Norris used excessive force to apprehend and detain her without any justifiable reason.
“She was bruised badly and suffered emotional stress, humiliation and embarrassment which affected her reputation in the community,” said Safran.” “We are possibly claiming there was a deprivation of her rights of freedom of speech.”
According to the claim, Norris falsely accused Jones of being “loaded on Vicodin” which started a rumor that spread through the community. She also incurred legal fees and out-of-pocket expense for medical treatment.
The claim stated that 12 witnesses saw Jones roughly escorted out of the forum and accosted.
It also said that Jones suspected that she had been singled out and targeted for harassment by Norris who “harbors personal animosity toward her.” Since the event, the claim said that she had been followed, kept under surveillance by police officers, and had been harassed both at home and in public.
With the settlement, the case is now over, at least as it pertains to the county and the city, Wisotsky said. But since a judge dismissed it without prejudice it could be refiled against the other defendants within two years of the incident, he said.
“But I think, effectively, this case is over,” he said.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice photo . Sounds like she should have here law licence pulled for all the frivolous law suits she is involved in.

Anonymous said...

damn! where did you get that photo?

Anonymous said...

“She was bruised badly and suffered emotional stress, humiliation and embarrassment which affected her reputation in the community,”

Sad to say, she was an embarrassment to the community long before this incident, and her reputation has only gotten worse.

Anonymous said...

I am suffering emotional distress knowing CEJ got money from our city, perhaps I'll sue her.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking I would come to a public meeting, create a disturbance, kick, scream, resist arrest, then sue for $10M. But, hey, I'll settle for twenty-two thou...

Anonymous said...

The lady is Crazy! She only made a big scene for the money. I feel bad for her kids that have to say that's their mother.

Anonymous said...

Don't think so anonymouse- you
would need the courage, first,
to take a stand on something
pertaining to the community
civic-good. I also got pulled
out of a public meeting for
simply speaking freely on a subject
not wanting to he heard.
It is known as censorship
and you should realize in
your small mind this
country was founded on
stronger civil disobedience
than you will ever know.
Jones was following tradition
the way of the patriots.
Live and Learn it!PL

Sondra Murphy said...

True civil disobedience utilizes passive resistance during arrest scenarios. Real patriots also follow the rules of fairness established at forums and do not just insist on speaking, but resolve to listen to what others are saying.
Effective protesters never kick and scream, but willingly accept arrest as the price for their convictions. True civil activists work in a cooperative manner to change society. Genuine activists want to channel society's tax dollars on programs that improve the lives of the powerless and neglected.
To summarize: Civil. Fair. Effective. Cooperative. Proactive. Social. Genuine. All characteristics historically possessed by our best patriots.

James Hatch said...

I guess the Boston Tea Party never happened.

Anonymous said...

Sondra Murphy is well written. Someone like Ms. Cathy Jones should be banned from our peaceful community. She bases her frivioulous lawsuits on intimidation and fear. As far as her reputation is concerned - she killed that on her very own: her behavior at the forum was unprofessional, her behavior in other public arenas over the past years has been even worse.

Sondra Murphy said...

The Boston Tea Party was an act of revolution.

Anonymous said...

Again, I am SO OVER Cathy Elliott Jones.

Anonymous said...

I question how many of you were
actually there, and if you often
attend city council or planning
meetings where the wishes and concerns of the public are routinely ignored, belittled or
prevented from registering in the
comfortably conservative enclave
that has become Ojai elite politics.Recent matters on growth
and development, actions from city manager and city attorney, and a conflict of interest mayor who seated herself speaks louder than any lame naysaying on this blog,
not to mention the courage to publicly address those entities CEJ had. PL

Anonymous said...

Looks like KEJ won't be getting her beach house this year.

Anonymous said...

The forum had a full auditorium; a strong showing of our local ciitizens who care about our community and were there respectfully to listen. Ms. Jones created a hostile situation, not just embarassing but ugly. We could hear her in the bathroom shouting foul language to some poor person on her cell phone; she made it quite obvious by her erratic behavior prior to her outburst that she was going to "stage" another one of her out-of-control scenes and worse yet - this person has cost our community thousands and thousands (who knows what the OUSD has lost of our precious tax dollars - she is a plague on our society.

Anonymous said...

Pete,
Instead of holding us hostage with the usual preponderance of hot air/sucking wind or (worse yet!) another posting your Ojai vision statement (“the occasional stray dog wandering down the street...”), get ELECTED!! Then we’ll have no choice but to listen.
Yours in friendship...Bob Burkholder

James Hatch said...

Sondra,

I assumed when you referred to our historical patriots you were referring to our founding fathers. If that is the case, I do not recall them following what appears to be your summary of a manual on proper methods of practicing civil disobedience.

I don't condone the attorney's actions. I do question your pigeon-holing of acceptable civil disobedience only to then make historical reference to a group that fought an eight year war as an example of your method of proper civil disobedience.

The fact is that every problem has a unique solution. James Hatch has the ability to identify the problem and then formulate an appropriate response to solve the problem. James Hatch does not pigeon hole problems into solutions.

Anonymous said...

JAMES HATCH FOR PRESIDENT, WELL, AT LEAST FOR CITY COUNCIL!! He seems to have all of the answers.

Sondra Murphy said...

Sorry for the confusion, James. Actually, I was thinking more recently, such as the women's, civil rights and anti-nuclear movements.
While such protests have had incidents of violence attached to them, I still believe the most effective protesters have displayed the characteristics I listed.
When one is protesting against an occupying government, I see that as revolution.
When one is protesting against one's own government, I see that as activism.
Purely my opinion, of course.
A lesson in “acceptable” or “proper” civil disobedience was not my intent. I will stand by my view of “true” and “genuine” civil activism, however.

James Hatch said...

Sondra,

No offense, but your distinction between revolution and activism reminds me of last night's debate when Clinton distinguished between denouncing and rejecting. (I make the apology because I would assume that one who is compared to Clinton would be offended.)

Obama was right, the distinction is mere splitting hairs and misses the point. The fact of the matter is right is right and wrong is wrong. Whether you want to call it activism or revolution, the bottom line is that one should stand up to wrongs.

James Hatch stands up against wrongs. James Hatch knows the difference between wrong and right. James Hatch refers to it as patriotism. Remember, it was Thomas Jefferson that said a revolution is good every now and again.

Anonymous said...

James Hatch (where are you?) what
you really mean is a delusion is
good every once in a while, but
your ilk brings out people like
you, it seems. Why bother getting elected when the current floor show is this good? You bloggers lead slow lifes to feel the need to keep this alive. Give the lady her rest from a story that went
unscripted in the first place.
And Bob, thanks but I'm looking for
your vision statement or anything
that is evidence you registered in local decison making.Have fun if you can...

Anonymous said...

PL: I was there and I can't agree with you at all. And I can't leave my name because CEJ might sue me.

Anonymous said...

This tiring incident can be viewed
on YouTube link at the top of the
page. If there is something
not perceived, please post
it. Otherwise we all can be left
to our own conclusions which
is how it goes anyway. I would
think that insurance money paid
the settlement. Now on to really
important matters- the blooming of
Spring!

James Hatch said...

Anonymous,

James Hatch supports further storms, and it is my official position that we need more rain. Spring will come soon enough.

It's simple, the creeks are still low and we've had low rain totals the last few years. Just another example of my problem solving abilities.

Anonymous said...

And where are the angry rebuttal comments from the infamous MS. JONES - where is she now? Would it behoove our community to raise additional funds and give that to her so that she would move away - and then we wouldn't "FEAR" or be INTIMIDATED by her or bullied by her - threatening lawsuits against anyone that crosses her path - I think that this would make financial sense (lawsuit settlement) to avoid any more frivilous lawsuits. Even if the insurance paid for the settlement - it is wrong - someone like Ms. Jones should not be rewarded for her behavior - she is the biggest bully herself - and now she is paid to go away and not be a nuisance - sorry that is wrong in my books - that is what is wrong with our society - we let people like her push everyone around, she screams - we all pay for it - what is wrong with this picture?

Sondra Murphy said...

James,
Though I dislike being compared to any politician, I am not offended. I find splitting hairs amusing.
I think, in the example you raised, to renounce someone is to vocally detach oneself from him. To reject means you also refuse his money. I think C was trying to get O to state whether he refused money from someone he has renounced. (Whether he did or did not does not interest me.)
I have nothing against revolution. It's the innocent blood so often associated with it that disturbs me and am therefore inclined to split hairs with you and Mr. Jefferson on the many interpretations of "good." I am of the opinion that revolution is sometimes necessary, always deadly and most effective when the goal clearly benefits society. "When in the course of human events" and all that.
As for right and wrong: two more words with so many literal, perceptual and relative definitions there is no hair wide enough to accommodate either.
James, I am curious if you would be interested in contributing something to "On One Hand" for the OVN. If so, email me. Will the real James Hatch please stand up?