Former Orange County Supervisor Edison W. Miller won a battle Monday to clear his name of claims that he acted to the detriment of his fellow prisoners of war while he was a POW in Vietnam for more than five years.
In a 21-page decision handed down in Washington, U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell criticized the Department of Navy and ordered it to expunge a letter of censure that former Navy Secretary John W. Warner had ordered placed in Miller's file in 1973.
Gesell wrote that the record from two military hearings and from evidence before Warner "contains no grounds for any decision but one to expunge" the letter.
"Not a single person saw Ed Miller do anything wrong," said Miller's Washington lawyer, Richard L. Swick. "It was all hearsay. Someone would say he knew Miller did something wrong because someone else had told him.
"Miller has been carrying the label of traitor around his neck for more than 10 years, and he's never done anything to ever betray his countrymen," Swick said. "What it was was that Miller was just unpopular."
Gesell limited his ruling to the failure of Warner and the Navy to follow procedures.
Without a hearing, Warner publicly censured Miller in a September 1973 letter saying, among other things, that Miller had accepted favors from the North Vietnamese to the detriment of fellow prisoners.
That kind of claim, Swick said, is akin to a criminal charge and requires the Navy to give Miller an opportunity to be heard.
Miller, who was promoted to colonel in the Marine Corps after the censure and who retired the same day with a full pension, said he expected Gesell's decision and was elated that it criticized the Navy.
But he was disappointed that the ruling was limited to procedural grounds.
"The only way I'm going to get all the issues raised is in the libel trial," he said.
Miller, whose appointment to the county Board of Supervisors in 1979 and actions as a board member sparked continual controversy, sued his 1980 election foe, current Supervisor Bruce Nestande, and 214 former POWs for a letter the POWs signed and Nestande sent to 100,000 county voters.
The letter accused Miller of cooperating with the enemy while he was in captivity by speaking out against American involvement in the war in articles and recordings for the North Vietnamese in violation of his oath as a military officer.
A date for the trial will be scheduled at a Superior Court hearing Feb. 6.