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Council candidates raise questions about lawsuit costs

March 12, 2013|By Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com
  • ARCHIVE PHOTO: Solomon E. Gresen, Esq. addresses news media regarding the law suit filed by these five police officers against the Burbank Police Department in Brentwood Monday June 1, 2009. The officers, seen behind, are (L-R) Elfego Rodriquez, Cindy Guillen-Gomez, Jamal Childs, Det. Steve Karagiosian, and Lt. Omar Rodriguez.
ARCHIVE PHOTO: Solomon E. Gresen, Esq. addresses news… (Alex Collins / Burbank…)

Burbank City Council members and candidates in the upcoming April 9 election say they are concerned about the rising cost of defending the city against lawsuits filed by former and current police officers in recent years.

The city has spent more than $7.1 million while defending itself against the lawsuits that center around discrimination and wrongful termination, prompting some to question whether there isn’t a more cost-effective way of handling the lawsuits.

Council-elect Bob Frutos said he thinks the city should drop the appeal against former Deputy Police Chief Bill Taylor and Det. Steve Karagiosian, who’ve both been through trial and were awarded $1.3 million and $150,000 in damages, respectively.

Taylor had sued for wrongful termination and Karagiosian for racial discrimination.

“What if we lose again? How much more money are we going to keep spending in defense?” Frutos asked. “There has to be a point in time where we can’t afford to keep going this route.”

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In approaching outstanding police cases, incumbent David Gordon said he would like to see the city explore whether mutually agreeable settlements would be more appropriate and less costly than protracted litigation.

“I don’t know if it is advantageous to the city to settle each and every case,” Gordon said. “I think it would be important to explore those options.”

Candidate David Nos said on the surface, he would agree, but would need to look at all the details if elected.

Frutos also said he also would be open to weighing different options with regard to pending cases, “with the ultimate goal of being fiscally responsible to taxpayers,” he said.

Incumbent Jess Talamantes said the City Council is continuously keeping an eye on the cost.

“That’s always a question we have for the city attorney — what are the pros and cons to proceeding or just settling? — and that’s what we have to weigh as council members,” he said.

While incumbent Dave Golonski called the high costs “regrettable,” he said the city has set aside an adequate amount of money to handle the litigation.

“Obviously, the city needs to defend itself vigorously, especially when it’s in the right,” he said.

Most recently, former Burbank Police Officer Elfego Rodriguez filed a lawsuit in March alleging wrongful and retaliatory termination.

In December, former Burbank Police Officer Pete Allen refiled a wrongful termination suit.

Both officers were fired after allegations of misconduct tied to the 2007 Porto’s robbery investigation.

Despite the growing tab for fighting the lawsuits, some money could still be recouped by submitting reimbursement requests through the city’s insurance, which has “been supportive of how we have handled these cases,” City Atty. Amy Albano said on Monday.

Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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