gaveldecision.jpgA federal appeals court in San Francisco has upheld a $78,000 verdict against an Arizona rancher in a case presided over by a federal judge who was killed in a mass shooting in Tucson in January.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury’s conclusion that rancher Roger Barnett must pay $78,000 in damages to four female undocumented immigrants who claimed he assaulted them and caused severe emotional distress when he allegedly threatened them with a gun.

The 2009 trial in the case was presided over by Chief U.S. District Judge John Roll, who was one of six people killed on Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire at a meeting held in a supermarket parking lot by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Giffords was severely injured. The suspect in the shooting is 22-year-old Jared Loughner.

Roll reportedly received death threats after he ruled in 2008 that the lawsuit filed against Barnett by a total of 16 undocumented immigrants could go to trial.

While awarding $78,000 to four women, the trial jury rejected civil rights claims by 12 other plaintiffs.

Barnett, who denied harming the people he found on his property, said he was trying to protect his ranch in southern Arizona from being a highway for illegal immigration.

In a ruling issued on Thursday, a three-judge panel of the appeals court rejected several challenges by Barnett to rulings made by Roll before and during the trial.

The panel upheld Roll’s ruling that Barnett was not entitled to claim that he acted in self-defense. The appeals court noted that Barnett had admitted while testifying that none of the plaintiffs were armed or had threatened him.

Lawyers from the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF, who represented the immigrants, hailed the ruling.

MALDEF Litigation Director Nina Perales said, “We are pleased to have secured some justice for our clients, and to have preserved the ruling in a case in which Chief Judge Roll served so ably and fairly.”

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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