SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The 9th Circuit heard arguments Wednesday on whether it should reverse an Arizona jury’s verdict to award 16 illegal immigrants over $73,000 in damages from border vigilante Roger Barnett.
Barnett had accosted the group of all women in March 2004 as they were resting near Arizona on State Highway 80.
Driving with his dog in an All Terrain Vehicle, he held the aliens at gunpoint until a Border Patrol agent arrived, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented the group.
Barnett told the aliens in Spanish, “My dog is hungry, and he’s hungry for ass,” according to the group’s complaint.
A civil jury ruled for the plaintiffs after an eight-day trial in February 2009, awarding damages for their emotional distress and assault claims.
On Wednesday, Barnett’s lawyer John Kaufmann said punitive damages had been improperly awarded and asked the court to overturn the jury’s verdict on that issue.
He argued that certain evidence had been admitted for the jury to examine that should have been withheld, including a personality test administered to the plaintiffs called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.
Kaufmann said the test results unfairly influenced the jury’s decision. “It never should have been presented to the jury,” Kaufmann said.
Judge Barry Silverman questioned Kaufmann as to why he never objected to the admissibility of the test before the jury’s verdict.
“He says it’s valid, you say it’s not valid, the jury hears it and gives it as much or as little weight as it deems fit,” Silverman said. “That’s like every other case. You made your argument … the jury considers it.”
Kaufman also argued that the jury’s verdict punished Barnett “simply for bad behavior.”
He asked the court vacate the award for punitive damages as they applied to two of the women, Sara Vasquez and Sandra Velasquez.
Again Silverman asked Kaufmann why he was just now raising the issue of admissibility and said the lawyer could have raised his objections when he received the jury verdict form.
“I know the damage was done, but the point is you have to object at the time,” Silverman said. “Just so I’m clear, your answer to their argument that you waived it by not objecting at the time is that you don’t know what the jury is going to say.”
“Yes, that’s my answer,” said Kaufmann.
David Urias, an attorney who represented the immigrants, said Barnett was requesting that the court “step into the shoes of the jury and basically re-decide all the issues that were vetted at trial.
“He provides no basis, however, to overturn the jury’s verdict,” Urias added.
Urias said the jury had heard compelling evidence at trial that Barnett had assaulted his clients and that they had endured severe emotional distress.
“They were held at gunpoint by Roger Barnett with a loaded .40-caliber handgun,” Urias said. “The jury heard testimony about how he berated them with racial slurs and obscenities … how he pointed his gun at the heads of these appellees, how one got down on her knees and begged for her life, how he cursed at her and threatened her in response.”
Urias said the jury verdict form “expressly allowed the jury to award punitive damages.”
“He made no comment and objected in no form,” Urias said of Kaufmann, “until well after the verdict came down.”