Friday, December 17, 2010

San Diego police are sorry they sued the city

San Diego police are sorry they sued the city
Lorie Hearn
Watchdog Institute
December 16, 2010
By Kelly Thornton

The San Diego Police Officers Association has sued the city several times in recent years, and the city has spent $8.6 million to fight them so far. That makes the city’s own cops its most expensive legal adversary.

Now, the officers are sorry.

The police union has a new lawyer who called two of three lawsuits “frivolous” and has filed two malpractice lawsuits against the attorneys who sued in the first place.

“The San Diego Police Officers Association knows this was expensive litigation for the city and has apologized profusely and we’ve done what we can to make it right,” said the POA’s new attorney, Michael Conger, an employment, business and personal injury lawyer from San Diego. “We’ve gotten rid of any litigation to the city related to this nonsense.”

In total, there are 23 lawsuits filed against the city between 2003 and 2010 in which the city has spent more than $1 million. The POA cases are three of those. For all 23 cases, the city has spent $55.3 million, according to an analysis by the Watchdog Institute, a nonprofit investigative reporting center based at San Diego State University.

One of the three cases brought by the POA was to force the city to pay officers for time spent putting on uniforms and protective gear and answering work-related emails. Another case accused then-City Attorney Michael Aguirre of bribery and extortion related to contract negotiations, and sought his removal from office. A third suit was a spinoff of the second; both alleged that the city’s underfunding of the pension violated police officers’ constitutional rights.

The POA lost all three cases – two at summary judgment, meaning a judge didn’t even think the case was worth going to trial. In the overtime case, a federal jury decided in favor of the city after a six-week trial.

More than 1,000 officers opted to drop any appeals based on advice from Conger. The previous lawyer, Gregory Petersen, an Orange County civil rights and employment attorney, is appealing one of the cases on behalf of about 100 clients who’ve stuck with him.

As the cases dragged on, POA members’ credit cards were charged $20 to 40 a month. To cover legal fees, the organization had to mortgage its headquarters.

“I think they were hurt dramatically,” Conger said of the officers. “They paid Petersen over $2.8 million for the privilege of bringing frivolous lawsuits, and he didn’t win one single motion. He doesn’t think he did anything wrong and doesn’t want to pay a dollar.”

At the same time, the financially crippled city hired an outside legal firm, Latham & Watkins, at up to $750 an hour, because the city had a conflict defending against its own employees...

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