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County settles 1999 lawsuit by former PA family

Josephine Galbraith committed suicide in 1995, county admits with an apology to her family

Santa Clara County settled a 9-year-old lawsuit Tuesday afternoon with the children of former Palo Altan Nelson Galbraith, who was wrongfully accused of murdering his former wife, Josephine.

The county admitted Josephine committed suicide in 1995 and apologized for accusing Galbraith of murdering her.

The county agreed to pay about $400,000, alter Josephine Galbraith's death certificate to include suicide as the cause of death and fund ethics training for three forensic pathologists, according to the April 22 agreement.

"Both sides worked very, very hard to reach the settlement," Lead Deputy County Counsel John Winchester said.

"Ultimately, I think there was a settlement that represents what both parties thought would be the cost and expense and risk each would face if they went to trial," he said.

County Executive Pete Kutras also gave the family, which includes the Galbraith's six children, a letter of apology.

"The County also wants to apologize to the Galbraith family for the events that gave rise to this lawsuit," Kutras wrote.

The settlement ends a convoluted battle between the Galbraith family and the county and its former Chief Medical Officer Angelo Ozoa. The conflict began with Josephine Galbraith's 1995 death in the Wilkie Way home she was sharing with her former husband.

Nelson Galbraith died in 2002 at age 82. Ozoa died last year.

At age 76, Josephine had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease days before and was acting severely depressed, family members said at the time. She died with a red sash around her neck and her wrist slashed, a bucket placed nearby to catch the blood.

Suicide was initially suspected, but then officers arrested Nelson Galbraith on Jan. 29, 1997 — 16 months after the death — and charged him with murder, citing findings from Ozoa's autopsy.

Galbraith, a former music-store owner and insurance salesman, spent a few days in jail before his children bailed him out.

Galbraith was acquitted by a trial jury in 1998, despite the prosecution's claims that Josephine had not been strong enough to tie the sash around her neck.

Angry that he had been accused of killing his lifelong love, whom he met in high school, Galbraith filed a $10 million claim in 1999 against Ozoa for a negligent autopsy and against the county for poor practices and sloppy prosecution.

The case rebounded through the judicial system until last year, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May 2007 that Galbraith had enough evidence to warrant a trial, which was scheduled for San Francisco's federal court this June.

The divided three-member panel questioned "whether Dr. Ozoa was reckless in performing the autopsy and in concluding the cause of death was homicide."

In addition, "there is a genuine issue ... whether the county's lack of training policies and procedures amounted to deliberate indifference to Galbraith's constitutional rights."

In his April 22 letter, Kutras wrote that a recent review of Josephine Galbraith's death, conducted by a county pathologist, revealed that she had died via suicide, not homicide.

Therefore, the county will change her death certificate, he said.

Winchester said a county pathologist reviewed the records from the case within the last six to eight months.

Kutras also listed a series of changes at the coroner's office since 1995. Medical staff now report to Kutras, while some administrative matters are handled by the sheriff's office. The county has improved its evidence-collection and handling procedures and provides regular training for its Medical Examiner-Coroner Department employees.

Galbraith's children received a check for $349,705 and the county paid $50,295 for legal fees.

Galbraiths' attorney could not be reached.

The Galbraiths had divorced in the early 1980s, but later reunited.

See http://www.paloaltoonline.com/weekly/story.php?story_id=5839 for more information.

Comments

Posted by pa resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2008 at 10:02 am

How sad the County screwed around until after Nelson Galbraith died to fully investigate and settle this matter. Imagine dying without being cleared of such a heinous false charge!

The settlement is a joke. His kids will be in my prayers.

They all deserved better treatment from Santa Claus County!


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