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Superior Court Judge Steven Denton held off ruling today whether the San Diego County Office of Education can get a new trial in the case of Rodger Hartnett, a former employee who alleges he was fired for blowing the whistle on conflicts of interest in the agency. (Check out this article for more information on the allegations.) Denton had issued a tentative ruling yesterday that would have denied a new trial to the office, which would have been a win for Hartnett.
In March, Denton ruled that Hartnett was entitled to his job and back pay because the county office had failed to properly investigate his claims. But today attorney Steven Cologne, who represents the county office, convinced the judge to give the issue more consideration before issuing his final ruling.
“This court has concluded for some reason that it was not a proper investigation,” Cologne said, adding, “That is not my burden, it’s [Hartnett’s] burden.” He argued that Denton needed to hear more evidence about how the office checked Hartnett’s claims before ruling that no investigation was done. He also questioned the legal definition of “investigation.”
Barry Vrevich, who represents Hartnett, countered that the office had to prove it had done an investigation, rather than forcing Hartnett to prove it had not. “What constitutes an investigation is a matter of common sense,” Vrevich said, adding that it would include interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents. He added, “There has been no showing in opposition that an investigation was performed.”
Denton did not name a date when he would make a final decision.