No Settlement Policy Worked

It has been reported that an estimated $63.3 million the City of Albuquerque has paid in legal settlements in law enforcement civil rights cases from 2010 to 2016 has resulted in a $40 million shortfall in the city’s risk management fund, which pays for uninsured losses.

(See February 14, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, Metro& NM “Payouts leave Duke City $40M short”, section C-1: https://www.abqjournal.com/949518/claims-payouts-leave-abq-40m-short.html)

This is dangerous and the City could lose its self insurance status.

Another point is that if judgements against the city become so high, payment could be placed on the property tax rolls.

The report makes one wonder exactly what has the Berry Administration and the City Attorney’s office actually done to defend the City and police officers in police misconduct cases, even in frivolous cases, other than writing checks and just “rolling over” without defending and settling the cases without advocating any defense.

The Albuquerque City Attorney’s Office employs 34 attorneys, numerous para legals, administrative assistants and support staff.

The City taxpayers are entitled to demand and expect competent and aggressive defense when the city is sued.

In 2010, it was the Berry Administration, on the recommendation of then City Attorney Rob Perry, a plaintiff’s attorney before becoming City Attorney, that abolished the “no settlement” policy to the absolute delight of plaintiff attorneys and the courts.

As City Attorney and as Chief Administrative Officer, Rob Perry sits on the City Risk Management Committee that approves city settlements of the cases.

The “no settlement policy” mandated that all “police misconduct cases” be tried before a jury with a few exceptions allowed when liability and misconduct was absolutely certain.

The philosophy was that the “sunlight” of an open courtroom and the presentation of evidence was the best disinfectant for police misconduct to inform the public.

The “no settlement policy” mandated that the City Attorney’s office aggressively defend the cases and police officer’s actions and required plaintiff attorneys to prove police misconduct and their client’s cases and damages.

Settlements are reached behind closed doors and the public is seldom given much of an explanation of how damages are arrived at and why resulting in much speculation.

The “no settlement policy” worked and the City would often prevail when it went to court saving the taxpayers millions of dollars.

Even when the city did not prevail, judgments awarded by juries were often significantly less than what plaintiff’s were seeking.

Plaintiff attorneys absolutely hated the no settlement policy and so did the court’s because it is a lot easier to settle a case than try a case before a jury.

With the abolishment of the “no settlement” policy, the City Attorney’s office has now acquired the reputation of just settling cases for the sake of settling and the city has become an easy mark to settle cases for large amounts of taxpayer money.

After 40 years of practicing law, mostly as a trial attorney, I for one have great faith in the American jury system and feel that there are times a jury needs to hear a case and determine damages, especially when it comes to police misconduct cases.

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About

Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.