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Deputy's suit seeking pay for K-9 care ends with painful bite

Deputy William Martinez sued the Sheriff’s Office for a pile of back pay.

Deputy William Martinez sued the Sheriff’s Office for a pile of back pay.

BROOKSVILLE — A federal lawsuit filed by a Hernando Sheriff's Office deputy seeking back pay turned ugly recently when a different allegation emerged.

Lawyers for Deputy William Martinez said the Sheriff's Office sought to discredit him and to find grounds for disciplinary action.

Among the witnesses deposed before the civil trial were two women suspected of having an extramarital affair with Martinez, who until 2011 was married to Denise Moloney, the agency's public information officer.

"This was highly personal," said G. Ware Cornell Jr., a Weston attorney who represented Martinez. "They never wanted to give him anything, and they sought to embarrass him, and they did."

• • •

Martinez filed the lawsuit last year in U.S. District Court claiming the Sheriff's Office owed him $236,953 in back pay for time spent caring for and training two of the department's dogs — Kevlar and Darla.

Martinez said the Sheriff's Office paid him an incorrect rate for Kevlar's after-hours care, and that he was owed for 45 minutes of daily overtime pay for Darla's care and 300 hours of training.

In a pretrial ruling in July, U.S. Judge James D. Whittemore decided Martinez was legally entitled to no more than two years of back pay, not the three years he sought. Martinez later agreed before trial that the Sheriff's Office had paid him the correct overtime rate for dog care.

Whittemore decided that evidence and testimony presented during a bench trial in July contradicted Martinez's claims. Martinez failed to keep records of after-hours training, Whittemore noted. The judge also cited testimony from Sheriff's Office employees, including Moloney and Martinez himself.

On Oct. 3, Witttemore ordered the Sheriff's Office to pay Martinez $1,075.44, plus "reasonable attorney's fees."

The allegations of smear tactics emerged in a motion Cornell filed after the trial, seeking $79,215 in attorney fees and costs.

Cornell pointed to Moloney's testimony that she gave the agency's attorneys the names of two local waitresses with whom she suspected Martinez had had affairs. One of the women admitted to a sexual encounter with Martinez; the other denied any affair.

Cornell also said the Sheriff's Office scheduled the depositions at the same time as the deposition of Martinez's current wife, Anna, who was "humiliated" when she arrived at a Brooksville law office to find the two women waiting, too.

Also, Anna Martinez was subpoenaed to bring emails and text messages exchanged with Martinez. Cornell invoked a constitutional right to privacy, but the Sheriff's Office attorneys said Martinez waived the right to keep private information that could be relevant to the case. The attorneys also subpoenaed William Martinez's cellphone records.

"In short, the fees in this case were increased and multiplied by vexatious conduct and the personal animus of a senior official" of the Sheriff's Office, Cornell wrote. Moloney "made suggestions of witnesses to sheriff's counsel about matters clearly outside the framed issues of this case. Defense counsel acted on those suggestions."

Cornell contended that the Sheriff's Office was determined to bring the case to trial and never made a serious settlement offer, even during mediation. He said his own offers were never countered.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis declined to comment because Whittemore is still considering the motion for attorney fees. R. Michael Pierro Jr., an attorney with the firm that represented the Sheriff's Office, called Cornell's claims "absolutely false and inappropriate."

In a filed response, Pierro said his firm deposed the two alleged mistresses based on a good-faith belief the women might have relevant information.

"Specifically, it was believed that (Martinez) was engaging in social, nonwork-related activities during his scheduled work hours and/or during periods of time he was allegedly conducting overtime training of Darla," Pierro wrote.

Pierro said Cornell never made a settlement offer except for the figure presented at mediation.

"This matter was litigated to the ends of the Earth for no other reason except (Martinez's) stubborn adherence to an unsupported damages calculation and relentless pursuit of untenable legal positions which the (Sheriff's Office) defeated," Pierro wrote.

Pierro asserted that Cornell deserves no more than $4,571 in fees, in large part because his hourly rate of $500 is higher than the prevailing local rate and because the final award was a fraction of what Martinez sought.

Whittemore has yet to issue a ruling.

• • •

Martinez, who declined an interview request from the Times, started with the agency in 1992 and worked as a dog handler from 1998 to May 2011. He received glowing performance reviews during that time and was promoted to canine coordinator in 2006.

By the time he filed the lawsuit, he had been demoted.

The first blemish came in 2010, when Martinez was suspended without pay after he failed to notify supervisors that he was given a criminal traffic summons while driving an agency vehicle in Georgia.

In 2011, internal investigations found that Martinez signed the names of two subordinates on a payroll sheet without their permission, failed to keep accurate records for the canine unit's narcotics lockers, and did not properly document his canine training activities. That lack of documentation became an issue during the suit for back pay.

During the investigation of the last offense, Martinez made a "cascading series of misstatements" and tried to deflect responsibility, Col. Mike Maurer wrote in a disciplinary memo. He was suspended without pay for seven days and demoted from corporal to patrol deputy.

On his 2012 annual evaluation, the most recent available, his overall performance was graded "above standard." A supervisor called him an asset to the squad.

Though the suit has marked a painful chapter for Martinez, he wants to remain at the Sheriff's Office, his attorney said.

"He's not going anywhere," Cornell said. "He loves his job."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

Deputy's suit seeking pay for K-9 care ends with painful bite 10/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 6:30pm]
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