Friday, February 4, 2011
The BLT: Blog of Legal Times reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an unpublished memorandum disposition, upheld a jury verdict in a case that prompted death threats against the late Chief Judge John Roll of Arizona, who presided over the trial and later was fatally shot in a shooting spree in Tucson that resulted in serious wounds to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Following a trial, a jury in 2009 found in favor of four plaintiffs who claimed a rancher named Roger Barnett assaulted them on public land on the border of Arizona and Mexico. The appeals court upheld the jury’s award of compensatory, punitive and nominal damages in a suit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The panel in the case was comprised of Ninth Circuit Judges David Thompson and Barry Silverman and Senior Judge Robert Cowen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sitting by designation.
The MALDEF press release announcing the jury verdict in February 2009 outlined the facts of the case as follows:
"The plaintiffs were resting in a wash in Douglas, Arizona when they were accosted by defendant Roger Barnett who was armed with a gun and accompanied by a large dog. Roger Barnett held the group captive at gunpoint, threatening that his dog would attack and that he would shoot anyone who tried to leave. During the encounter, Barnett kicked a plaintiff as she was lying, unarmed, on the ground.
The jury found in favor of the women plaintiffs and awarded damages on their claims of assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Barnett must now pay $73,352 in damages to the victims.
This is not the first racial assault case filed against the Barnett family. The Morales family and Emma English, a family friend, are U.S. citizens who filed suit after Barnett confronted them on state land in November 2004, while they were on a family hunting trip. Armed with a semi-automatic military-style assault rifle, Barnett held the family at gunpoint, cursed and screamed racial slurs at them and threatened to kill them all. In September 2008, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected Barnett’s appeal and allowed to stand a jury award to the family of close to $100,000 in damages."
Barnett, who is something of a cause celebre in anti-immigrant circles, claimed a while back on the Glenn Beck show that he had apprehended more than 10,000 illegals crosssing his ranch in sourtern Arizona.
UPDATE: A few hours after the initial post, MALDEF issued the following press release about the case:
"Today, MALDEF welcomed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Vicente v. Barnett, upholding an Arizona jury verdict against a vigilante rancher operating along the Arizona-Mexico border. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the jury’s decision that the vigilante was liable for assaulting a group of immigrants he found on public land. As a result of today’s ruling, the rancher will be forced to pay approximately $87,000 in damages.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the rancher, Roger Barnett, was not entitled to claim self defense, because he admitted that none of the migrants he assaulted had threatened or attacked him. The Ninth Circuit also upheld the jury’s award of punitive damages against Barnett.
"We are very pleased with the Ninth Circuit's verdict. Today's ruling sends the strong message that vigilantes will not be tolerated in Arizona" stated David Hinojosa, MALDEF's Southwest Regional Counsel and attorney in the case.
"This case was tried in Tucson in front of Chief Judge John Roll, who was tragically killed in the recent attack on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords," stated Nina Perales, MALDEF Director of Litigation. "We are pleased to have secured some justice for our clients, and to have preserved the ruling in a case in which Chief Judge Roll served so ably and fairly," continued Perales.
Prior to Barnett's attack, the plaintiffs had been resting on the ground near Douglas, Arizona. Barnett was armed with a gun – a semi-automatic .45 – and was accompanied by a large dog. He held the group captive, threatening that his dog would attack and that he would shoot anyone who tried to leave. During the encounter, Barnett kicked a woman as she was lying, unarmed, on the ground.
Today's ruling marks the second successful case challenging Roger Barnett's vigilante attacks along the border. In September 2008, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a jury award of close to $100,000 in damages for a family of Latino U.S. citizens who were assaulted by Barnett on state-owned land. In that case, Barnett held the group at gunpoint with a semi-automatic military-style assault rifle, cursed and screamed racial slurs at them and threatened to kill them all, including two girls aged 9 and 11.
Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel stated "This decision vindicates constitutional guarantees for all. Even in Arizona, vigilantes do not have the right to harass and victimize peaceful migrants."
The law firms of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg & Ives P.A. and Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP participated as pro bono counsel on behalf of the plaintiffs."