On March 13, 2012, in Cate v. California Sate Personnell Board (Norton), (California Courts of Appeal – 4th District, No. E053011), the court held that a trial court can make its own determination of credibility, even after an administrative law judge has made a credibility finding.
The facts of Cate are very intriguing. Norton worked as a correctional officer for a facility that housed mentally ill inmates. In 2007, Norton was served with a
termination notice based on an allegation that he negligently failed to report a statement given by an inmate that a fellow-inmate planned to hang herself. Norton appealed the termination on the basis that there was not enough evidence to support the allegation. During that proceeding, the administrative law judge found that, though the immediate allegation was not supported by evidence, there was substantial evidence of other dishonest, negligent, and discourteous behavior. Despite this, the termination was reduced to a suspension. The Department of Corrections appealed the finding that substantial evidence did not support the negligence allegation, which the trial court granted.
The appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision. It found that the trial court did not have to give great weight to a "hearing officer's" findings. Here, the administrative law judge discounted the weight of the inmate's witness testimony regarding the impending suicide. Because the trial court does not have to defer to the credibility determination made by the administrative law judge, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's determination that it could consider all relevant evidence in its finding.
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