By Carle Prine, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Two lawsuits accuse the senior officer of California’s National Guard, Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, of illegally telling subordinates to block a high-ranking officer’s transfer to another state — and there’s an ongoing probe ordered by the governor’s office into the alleged misconduct.
Those court filings, plus documents from Gov. Jerry Brown’s office and internal Guard paperwork leaked to The San Diego Union-Tribune, provide a rare peek into a dispute affecting California’s top military brass. They reveal claims that certain Guard leaders and their deputies have carried out personal vendettas against officers supposedly seen as rivals.
Col. John Haramalis, a highly decorated soldier in the California Army National Guard who’s currently assigned to the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit in Virginia targeting Baldwin. He’s urging authorities to compel Baldwin — adjutant general of both Army and Air National Guard forces in California — to allow him to transfer to a job with the Arizona National Guard. Haramalis believes he eventually might be promoted to brigadier general there.
The lawsuit also alleges that Baldwin ordered subordinates to block the transfer shortly before it could be completed last year, badmouthed Haramalis to fellow generals and invented red-tape regulations to stall the colonel’s job prospects nationwide until he faces mandatory retirement later this year.
Haramalis also serves as president of the National Guard Association of California, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of the 23,000 troops in California’s military.
In the past dozen years, the colonel not only staked out a prominent position against Baldwin’s efforts to force nearly 10,000 Guardsmen to repay millions of dollars in enlistment bonuses, but also battled Baldwin over securing whistleblower protections for soldiers and airmen, the leaked documents show.
Haramalis was rumored to be a finalist for the adjutant general position in 2011 when Brown returned to office as governor, but Baldwin actually got the nod.
Baldwin declined to comment for this story. The California National Guard wouldn’t discuss the federal lawsuit, but did release a general statement.
In that state lawsuit, Haramalis on Oct. 4 sought criminal charges of perjury, uttering false official statements and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman against Baldwin. Haramalis also tried to get three of Baldwin’s staffers prosecuted under similar allegations and urged the governor to relieve Baldwin until completion of a criminal investigation.
On Nov. 1, Brown dismissed Haramalis’ request for charges against the targeted soldiers. A memo written by Peter Southworth, the governor’s chief deputy legal affairs secretary, said because Haramalis served in the active-duty armed forces at the Pentagon, he was barred from requesting criminal charges under California military law.
Brown’s office then directed the state inspector general to launch a probe, which is continuing.
Southworth did not return telephone messages from the Union-Tribune.
The Superior Court case ended the day after Haramalis filed the federal lawsuit, with the judge ruling that soldiers can’t file claims against the armed forces stemming from their military service. Although Haramalis also wanted the state court to decide that the California National Guard committed contract violations, the judge determined that the colonel’s case was too murky.
In the federal lawsuit, Haramalis alleges that California National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Lawrence Haskins told him last summer that Baldwin made derogatory statements about him at the headquarters offices, “creating a very unfavorable overall impression” about him and scuttling his requested transfer to Arizona.
Haramalis’ personnel records don’t appear to show any official tensions between him and Baldwin.
In 2013, for example, Baldwin signed an Officer Evaluation Report judging Haramalis to be “one of the best of my brigade commanders” and in the top 5 percent of colonels in the Guard — a man who not only demanded high standards of his troops but also “achieves outstanding results.”
”I would gladly serve in combat with him. I trust his judgment completely. Absolutely unlimited potential,” Baldwin wrote.
In 2014, Baldwin wrote similar praise in that year’s evaluation for Haramalis. And in 2015, Baldwin signed a report naming Haramalis “the best brigade level commander” and a soldier who “far exceeded my highest expectations” and whose performance was “picture perfect.” Baldwin urged an immediate promotion to brigadier general for Haramalis.
In an interview, Haramalis told the Union-Tribune he couldn’t explain what happened between early 2015 and last summer, when Baldwin blocked his transfer to Arizona. But he accused Baldwin of being jealous. “I’ve known him for 30 years and he’s extremely petty and vindictive,” Haramalis said.
He also said the vast majority of transfers from the California National Guard to other states are approved as a matter of course.
Haramalis emphasized that he’s now a legal resident of Virginia, which should void his service in the California National Guard under that state’s laws. His current chain of command runs up the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, not through Sacramento, a point Brown’s office made in denying the filing of criminal charges against Baldwin and other top officers.
The court docket in Virginia shows that summons have been issued to Baldwin, but no hearing dates have been set.