$4.8 Million Judgment Could Cost City More Than Anticipated

Vincent Miller, the attorney for former South Pasadena Police Officer Timothy Patrick Green, will file a motion in courtroom 45 of Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles Friday morning seeking attorney fees in addition to the $4.8 million awarded to his client early last month.

Miller filed the lawsuit in March of 2015 and worked on contingency. He told The Review that he hopes to receive a significant amount from Judge Mel Red Recana. 

Representing the City in Green vs. The City of South Pasadena dating back to 2015 is Elizabeth Kessel of The Law Offices of Kessel & Associates. She founded the firm in 1990 and it has since specialized in civil litigation. Kessel did not respond to The Review’s requests for comment.

The City of South Pasadena has remained quiet, as well, since then-Interim-City-Manager Elaine Aguilar issued the following statement on Oct. 6: “We were surprised and disappointed by the verdict and the amount the jury awarded to the plaintiff. The City and its public-entity risk-sharing pool, which will play a critical role in the decision regarding next steps, are weighing all legal options moving forward.”

Mariam Lee Ko, the City’s Human Resources representative, has not responded to inquiries regarding the specifics of the City’s contract with California State Association of Counties Excess Insurance Authority (CSAC-EIA), the “public-entity risk-sharing pool” Aguilar referred to in her statement. The City switched to CSAC-EIA (an excess risk-pool) in 2014 from CJPIA (a primary risk-pool) according to public records.

Former Police Chief Joseph Payne said he was familiar with the coverage the City’s last risk-pool insurer provided. “With CJPIA, money was pooled to cover the cost of a loss upfront,” said Payne. “The City was still required to pay back the money over a period of time.”

A hotline claims representative from CSAC-EIA told The Review that the City of South Pasadena is covered under the insurer’s General Liability 1, Excess Worker’s Compensation (EWC), Optional Excess Liability and Property plans. If applicable, this coverage would fall under General Liability 1, which currently covers 120 members and has a total payroll of $6.1 billion. The representative stated that the City would have had to have specified this particular liability in its contract in order to be fully covered.

There is no indication that the nearly 3-year-long lawsuit will end anytime soon—particularly if the City appeals the jury’s verdict. On Oct. 5, after a month-long trial, a 12-person jury found the City of South Pasadena guilty on four counts, all concerning the City’s termination of Green. The charges all revolved around the alleged wrongful release of the 19-year SPPD veteran. They included the causes of disability discrimination, failure to accommodate [for disabilities], failure to engage in interactive process, and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment.

Los Angeles Superior Court documents state Green claimed that he was falsely accused by former SPPD Captain Richard Kowaltschuk of letting a hit-and-run suspect he pulled over for speeding early on the morning of Jan. 31, 2012 go free. Following protocol, an internal investigation was subsequently conducted by then-Police-Chief Payne regarding Kowaltschuk’s accusation. Payne determined that there was no evidence to support the allegation against Green of dishonesty. However, almost immediately after current Police Chief Art Miller assumed control of the department in February, 2013, he reopened the investigation. In addition to laws under FEHA, the City is required to follow Section 3304 of the Government Code, commonly known as the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights (Pobor) which states that a public safety officer’s investigation must be completed within one year. This one year statute of limitations may be extended by the presentation and discovery of new evidence; however none was put before the jury to justify an extension in this case.

During the trial, most of which Chief Miller attended in person, the City’s defense chose not to bring the police chief, the accusing captain or the former assistant to the City Manager Hilary Straus to the stand. Straus, not then-City Manager Sergio Gonzales, took the reins on this case, those close to it say.

Vincent Miller believes that the City was forced to do this because its witnesses had set themselves up during depositions to perjure themselves in court.

“The City elected to withdraw its expert witnesses and elected to not call its witnesses, including Police Chief Arthur Miller. It may be that the one City employee who we called and testified under our direct examination, Mariam Ko (the head of the city’s Human Resources department), contradicted herself multiple times and lacked credibility with the jury. Whatever the reason, the jury verdict was unanimous on all causes, which in itself is unusual in civil cases” he said.

The plaintiff’s legal team expects the City to appeal the court’s decision.

“I expect the judge to sign the judgment from the verdict making it official and at that point the City will file a motion for a new trial and a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict asking the court to disregard the jury and give the defendants the win,” said Miller. “After the judge denies that in December or January, the City will have two months to appeal.”

Reports indicate that the City’s defense offered as little as $25,000 at initial settlement meetings with Green. According to some in the industry, it is standard for a defense team to, at a minimum, offer the amount of its potential legal fees.