Trial in harassment suit against police is postponed

Judge denies plaintiff jury trial, saying case will be tried from bench

Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A man claiming harassment by a Juneau policeman in a lawsuit against the officer, the department and the city was granted a postponement in the scheduled trial Tuesday.

But Jake Olivit Sr., who is acting as his own attorney, was denied his request to try the case before a jury.

He told Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins Tuesday that the case is important to the community and should be decided by the public. Collins told him he waited too long to request a jury, leaving her to consider the case from the bench.

Olivit filed suit in December naming Officer Paul Comolli. He is seeking more than $500,000 in damages.

In the original complaint, he wrote that he has seen Comolli cruising in his neighborhood and alleged the officer tried twice to get him fired from his job and has harassed him on other occasions.

After the suit was filed Comolli said he has never arrested Olivit and recalled dealing with him only once, in 2003, when he issued him a warning instead of a citation.

The trial had been scheduled to begin next week. Collins rescheduled it for Jan. 9, after Olivit requested more time to go through audio tapes recently provided to him by the defense.

Olivit said he will need time to have them transcribed and cross-referenced to assist his case. He also charged the defense was "deceitful" in not labeling the tapes properly.

Before Collins adjourned Tuesday's hearing, attorney Eric Kueffner, contracted by the city to defend the suit, reminded her she had never ruled on his opposition to a jury trial. Olivit made the request at a Jan. 13 hearing.

Olivit argued Tuesday that the rules allow him to request a jury trial within 10 days of pleadings in the case, and there have been numerous pleadings since he filed the initial complaint on Dec. 1.

Collins told Olivit the Alaska Supreme Court has said the rule gives him 10 days after filing the initial complaint to request a jury trial.

Olivit argued that the case needs to go before a jury because it is of fundamental importance to the community. Police and certain city officials, he said, are violating people's civil liberties and civil rights.

The judge should grant a jury trial, he told her, "so the community has an opportunity to pass judgment."

Collins said she can make exceptions to the 10-day rule, but not simply because he failed to check the appropriate box when filing the case.

She also denied a request by Olivit to allow one of his co-workers at a Mendenhall Valley auto parts store to testify by telephone during the trial.

Kueffner noted that the valley is only an eight-mile drive from the courthouse. "Trial is inconvenient for anybody," he said.

Also at Tuesday's hearing, Olivit gave Kueffner a key purportedly belonging to the police department, which Olivit said he found on his property. Kueffner said if it wasn't returned, Olivit could be charged with theft.

Olivit said the key did him no good without other keys he plans to subpoena at trial. "They were on my property after an act of harassment," he said.

"Your client's going down," he told the defense attorney as he gave him the key.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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