It has been reported that the City of Albuquerque has been sued hundreds of times since the end of fiscal year 2016.
In the last year alone, the City has paid out $34 million in civil settlements for all sorts of alleged personal injury cases, including police misconduct cases and officer involved shooting cases.
According to the most recent “quarterly litigation” report to the City Council, during the last 16 months, the City has paid out over $35.1 million to settle cases.
Back in February, 2017, it was reported the City of Albuquerque has paid $63.3 million in legal settlements in law enforcement civil rights cases from 2010 to 2016 and that it was resulting 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” )
The City also spends millions of dollars in private contracts to hire defense attorney’s in cases the City Attorney does not or cannot defend.
The danger is the City could lose its self insurance status in the event the city does not have enough reserves to handle judgements awarded against the city or agreed to by the city.
Risk management reserves are funded by the general fund which is taxpayer funded.
Another point is that if judgements against the city become so high, payment could be placed on the property tax rolls.
These news reports makes one wonder exactly what the City Attorney’s office has 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 plaintiffs 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.
Can you just imagine what $63.3 million dollars could have been used for when it comes to public safety, senior citizen centers, libraries, and quality of life amenities?
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.