Judge dismisses Buckheit lawsuit against Atherton
A federal court judge has thrown out a $10 million lawsuit filed by Atherton resident Jon Buckheit against the town of Atherton, San Mateo County, and three Atherton police officers.
Judge Joseph Spero issued his ruling Friday, April 6, granting the town's, the county's, and the officers' motions for summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit before it went to trial.
"I'm very disappointed with the decision, and seriously considering appealing it," Mr. Buckheit told the Almanac.
Mr. Buckheit filed the lawsuit in 2008 as a result of his arrest after a domestic violence incident in his home in which he had called the police and reported that he was the victim.
He later amended his lawsuit to include additional grievances when he learned that the police report of his arrest was changed hours after it was completed to include false charges of physical abuse to a child who had been present during the domestic dispute — charges the town later said were added inadvertently because of a computer entry error.
"He threw the whole case out, saying the falsification of the police report didn't cause significant damage or have enough of a chilling effect on my free speech to be an actionable claim under the Civil Rights Act," Mr. Buckheit said.
"But I felt I was damaged when I had to write that check to my lawyer to expunge my record," he said, referring to having to go to court to ask for a legal declaration of factual innocence.
Atherton City Attorney Bill Conners told the Almanac that he believes "the judge ruled correctly" in dismissing the case, but he wasn't gloating over the town's win. "To be fair, I know Jon Buckheit, and he believes passionately that he was correct."
Mr. Conners noted that he wasn't Atherton's attorney for much of the time the case has been active, and he expressed disappointment that the town and Mr. Buckheit didn't work things out long ago.
"I always thought this thing got way out of hand ... and it never should have gotten to the lawsuit stage," Mr. Conners told the Almanac.
Mr. Buckheit's legal claims against the town included violation of his First Amendment rights, which he said occurred when his police report was changed to include the child abuse charge. The charge was added, his lawsuit claimed, in retaliation for his complaints that he had been mistreated by Officer Dean DeVlugt during the domestic violence call, and thus was an attempt to "chill" his right to speak out against the treatment.
In his ruling, Judge Spero concluded that Mr. Buckheit had "presented no evidence that any of the retaliatory acts had any adverse effect on him or would have had a chilling effect on his speech."
The lawsuit's claims also included assertions that Mr. Buckheit's arrest was the result of gender discrimination, and that the county and town engaged in a conspiracy of retaliation and an attempt to thwart Mr. Buckheit's petition for factual innocence.
Mr. Buckheit was granted a declaration of factual innocence in San Mateo County Superior Court in 2010. During the hearing, Judge Mark Forcum stated that "there's absolutely no basis to believe that Mr. Buckheit ever laid a finger on the child," referring to the charge added to the police report after Mr. Buckheit's arrest.