Judge weighs testimony in suit against Washoe DA

RENO " A federal judge is weighing evidence and testimony in a civil lawsuit accusing Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick and his top assistant of retaliating against a former sheriff's detective after he questioned the accuracy of experts used in child sexual assault cases.

U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt of Las Vegas presided over the six-day trial. A ruling is expected in a couple weeks.

In his suit, Rene Botello claims Gammick and Assistant District Attorney John Helzer derailed his career after he complained in 2001 that two nurses used by the prosecution as an expert witness in sexual assault cases regularly gave incorrect testimony.

Washoe County is also named as a defendant.

Botello resigned from the sheriff's office in September 2002 and applied for the Washoe County School District police force. The suit claims Gammick and Helzer pressured the department not to hire Botello and threatened not to prosecute any of his cases because he wouldn't be a credible witness.

The school district police chief "only fired him because of this issue with Mr. Gammick and Mr. Helzer," Terri Keyser-Cooper, one of Botello's lawyers, said Monday during her closing statement.

Steve Balkenbush, a lawyer for the defense, said Gammick was entitled to express his opinion about Botello and say he would not use him as a witness.

"They had every right to comment on that," he said. "And that's protected speech."

He also said Gammick never discouraged anyone from hiring Botello.

"There was never an attempt to dissuade them from hiring Botello as an employee to the Washoe County School District," he said.

Botello's case was initially dismissed in 2003 by Hunt, who agreed with Gammick's argument that his position as prosecutor gave him immunity from such lawsuits.

But the suit was reinstated two years later by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and cleared for trial when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Botello is now an investigator with the Nevada attorney general's office.


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