City has spent $4.5 million defending against discrimination lawsuit

While the city was cleared of discrimination charges in Contra Costa Superior Court, a second lawsuit, in federal court, could still go forward. (Photo by: Robert Rogers)

While the city was cleared of discrimination charges in Contra Costa Superior Court, a second lawsuit, in federal court, could still go forward. (Photo by: Robert Rogers)

Now that a jury has cleared the city and police Chief Chris Magnus of racial discrimination and harassment charges—after five years of legal wrangling and three months of trial—it’s time to tally up the costs.  And they are substantial. Richmond has spent about $4.5 million since 2006 to defend the city, Magnus and former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter against discrimination charges brought by seven high-ranking black police officers, according to Assistant City Manager Leslie Knight. Of that, $1.9 million was covered by insurance, while the rest came out of the city’s Human Resources Risk Management division.

The price tag will rise further if a second lawsuit goes to trial in November, as scheduled. Four of the seven plaintiffs have filed suit in federal court, and that case is unaffected by the verdict in Contra Costa Superior Court this week. Stephen Jaffe, the lawyer for several plaintiffs in both lawsuits, said his clients were not deterred by the verdict Tuesday.

“We have lost a major battle, but the war is not yet over,” Jaffe said.

The $4.5 million covered costs related to both lawsuits, including lawyers’ fees, depositions, expert testimony, trial preparation and settlement conferences, Knight said, but it does not include time spent on the case by city staff. Knight said she believes that attorneys’ time made up most of the cost.  The firm Meyers Nave represents the city in both suits, with the defense led by attorneys Geoffrey Spellberg and Arthur Hartinger.

The plaintiffs had sought more than $18 million from the city.  Jaffe had asked for $3 million in general and punitive damages for each of his six clients: Sgt. James Jenkins, Lieutenants Shawn Pickett, Arnold Threets, Johan Simon, and Michael Booker, and Captain Eugene McBride. Four of the officers also sought economic damages, claiming they had lost promotional opportunities as a result of discrimination. Brown asked for an additional, unknown amount. In clearing the city, the jury awarded the plaintiffs nothing.

It remains unclear how much the plaintiffs spent to bring the lawsuit. Christopher Dolan, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs earlier in the case, testified during the trial that he had incurred $420,000 in costs during the time he represented them. Jaffe declined to disclose his fee or costs, but said they didn’t match that amount.

9 Comments

  1. Sandra Whisler

    I’m not sure what “Was it Worth it?” means in this case. The only alternative was to settle, and that would have cost more money, and meant that Chief Magnus left besides because he felt unsupported (I am guessing here, no special knowledge). And how do we measure the cost of all of the improvements in the Richmond police department and the way crime is handled in the city–things that would not have happened had the plaintiffs won, and succeeded in forcing Magnus out? So yes it was worth it, though all law suits are in some sense a waste of money.

    • Dave

      So you’re saying it was worth it, but it wasn’t worth it?

      • Sandra Whisler

        I think almost all lawsuits are a waste of money, And I think the city didn’t have any choice, and that it was well worth it to keep Chief Magnus and to affirm his right to change the department he was hired to run.

        • Dave

          Doesn’t sound to me as if he has the support of his employees, so I’m not sure how effective he can possibly be at implementing “change”. But, minorities need to realize going into a situation that police departments, historically, are not bastions of tolerance or equality.

          • Tony Suggs

            Historically, the country and the world, has not been bastions of tolerance or equality. So how far back do you want to go before we stop and recognize what changes that have been made?

  2. Mike

    Even if the city ends up paying more in their defense than it would have cost to settle, it is worth it.

    and Dave,

    What has come out that leads you to believe he doesn’t have the support of his employees? This lawsuit was brought on by a very small group in a department of nearly 200 officers.

    • Dave

      You’re right, he has the support of much of the department since it has a large percentage of white officers.

  3. Ano

    The city should go after those officers and make them pay the citizens of richmond the $4.5m. Back.

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