A juror in the Michael Blagg murder trial last spring has filed a lawsuit against his employer, claiming that his supervisors pressured him to find a way to duck jury service — and retaliated against him after he spent six weeks on the panel that found Blagg guilty of killing his wife.
George Montano's wrongful-termination lawsuit in Boulder County District Court accuses an account manager at Ricoh USA of "coaching" him on how to lie in order to get out of jury duty and expressing disapproval when he was selected for the high-profile case. Upon his return to work, he claims, he was subjected to unwarranted disciplinary actions and "treated like he had been on a month-and-a-half-long vacation," until he was compelled by stress to take a medical leave of absence.
A spokesperson for Ricoh USA says the company is still investigating the matter and that Montano is still considered a "current employee."
Blagg's protracted case has attracted widespread media attention that stretches back seventeen years, to the 2001 violent death of Mesa County resident Jennifer Blagg and the disappearance of her six-year-old daughter, Abby. The investigation seemed to have reached a resolution in 2004, when a jury found Michael guilty of Jennifer's murder. Prosecutors presented evidence that he'd shot her in the face while she was in bed and took her body to a dumpster at his business; police found the body in a local landfill. (Abby has never been found, alive or dead, and Blagg was never charged with her murder.)
But Blagg's conviction was overturned a decade later, after Judge David Bottger ruled that one of the jurors in the case hadn't told the truth during the selection process. That led to the retrial in Jefferson County last spring, which Montano's complaint describes as an "emotionally exhausting" process, involving "gruesome" evidence — a process made even more difficult by his bosses' opposition to his involvement.
Montano had been assigned to an important "troubled account" at Ricoh, the electronics and imaging giant, shortly before he received his jury summons. He claims that an account manager told him he needed to get out of jury duty by stating that he didn't like police officers, and that he received subsequent texts from the manager, stating "Just remember my coaching!" and "Please don't get picked!!!" But Montano declined to lie about his attitude toward law enforcement and was selected to serve, while working on the troubled account on his own time — because, another boss told him, "you still own it all."
When Montano returned to Ricoh USA's Boulder office, he received two disciplinary write-ups in thirty days for what his attorney describes as "petty matters." The backed-up workload he was facing and other factors soon prompted him to seek medical treatment for stress and anxiety; while on medical leave, he was told that his job duties had been reassigned to other employees.
"They never formally said he was terminated," says David Miller, Montano's attorney. But Miller argues that his client's treatment amounts to "constructive discharge" — and violates a state statute that prohibits an employer from coercing or retaliating against an employee facing jury duty.
"Retaliation for jury service from an employer entitles you to three times actual damages," says Miller. "This isn't just good public policy. This is the law."
In response to a request for comment, a Ricoh spokesperson provided a statement that indicates the company still considers Montano to be employed there. "Ricoh takes HR complaints very seriously, and diligently and quickly works to investigate and resolve them, as is consistent with our commitment to maintaining and fostering the highest ethical standards," the statement reads. "In compliance with our internal investigation process, we have reached out to both Mr. Montano, a current Ricoh employee, and his attorney, seeking Mr. Montano's participation in our investigation. To date, Mr. Montano has refused to participate."
Miller disputes that account. He says he made several attempts to communicate with Ricoh's ethics officer and in-house counsel and offered to make his client available for an interview. The lawsuit was only filed, he adds, after Ricoh rejected a settlement offer and the possibility of mediation.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.