City Stops Payment of Legal Fees for Accused Police Officers

Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence. Massachusetts has announced that the city will no longer pay legal bills for police officers, including the bills for officers currently in court in nine brutality cases pending in U.S. District Court.

City Councilor Daniel Rivera, chairman of the budget committee, complained that the city was paying “Cadillac prices” for such lawyers. Instead, they seem to be going from Cadillac to Yugo prices.

Lantigua is citing the police union contract that states that the city only has to pay the $5,000 retainer for a patrolman and $7,500 for a superior officer. Otherwise, Lantigua insists that its officers can either pay the rest for private counsel or use one of the three city attorneys or have their unions pay for the defense.

Ironically, Lantigua has hired his own outside counsel to defend the city against a complaint filed by the patrolmen’s union over the decision to cut their legal payments.

The firm hit the hardest is Dwyer and Duddy, which received $471,374 in fees. The city recently settled one police brutality case for $400,000. There are six civil trials set to go to verdict in the next six months. That seems like an awful lot of lawsuits over the conduct of a small police force. The entire city has only 70,662 inhabitants.

The decision however raises a number of troubling questions. First, there is the question of whether the three lawyers in this small town actually handle such a heavy litigation load. Second, there is the conflict of interest that can arise in lawyers representing individual officers when they are also representing the city. Assuming officers agree to accept city lawyers in representation, how will the city handle cases where the city and individual officers are being sued? This could easily result in a conflict for the attorneys in representing both the city and officers. Given the bar on such conflicts, what will the city do to comply ethical obligations when these officers demand representation?

Source: EagleTribune found on Reddit.

18 thoughts on “City Stops Payment of Legal Fees for Accused Police Officers”

  1. I know it is way out of fashion these days, but I still believe in that old rule, innocent until proven guilty.

    That goes for the cops, too. If accused of brutality, they too are presumed innocent, and just like anybody else charged with a crime, they should have the right to a public defense attorney, paid for by the state (or municipality).

    I don’t want to pre-judge them, let the real judge and real jury judge them. As a taxpayer, I am willing to pay for their defense, just as I am willing to pay for the public defense of others that may well be convicted of violent crimes, including murderers, rapists, pedophiles, armed muggers and wife beaters.

    The only question in my mind is if they are entitled to anything more than a public defender. That is what they were getting in this town, and I don’t see any justification for that expense.

  2. I have often wondered about the logic of the government paying lawyers to defend police officers charged with brutality against citizens if the governing body concludes these charges were justifed in the first place. My own position would be that I would support funding any defense to friviolous charges but would resist paying for the defense of any well-founded charges. In my view, the officers are acting ultra vires and thus against the express instructions of the govenring body and the law. They should be on their own.

  3. In Minnesota the Joint Gang Task Force had a good little business going until they got caught last year. They seized plenty of money and property but didn’t bother to report it. There were flat screen TVs and lots of other toys spread around the force.

    Just another piece in the puzzle: huge gulf between haves & have-nots, crumbling or nonexistent infrastructure, imperious politicians more intent on distraction then progress, high infant mortality rates, corrupt police, fixed courts. This place really is becoming a third world nation.

  4. Maybe the asset seizure provisions for drug arrests was one of the things that Hillary Clinton was really talking about when she said drugs laws would not be changed (at the Federal level) to legalize or decriminalize the use/supply of drugs in America because there was too much money in it. Later she clarified her remarks to say the people making money off drugs illegally wouldn’t go along with it. That statement on its face is absurd and obviously a position pulled out of thin air.

    Missouri is a state that has a state seizure law that now demands a felony conviction of crimes substantially related to drugs before seizure can take place. That law was passed in ’93 after a big, BIG scandal over seizures that followed the Federal law where a felony was not necessary. Now, to avoid having to comply with the Missouri law (and turn 100% of the assets over to Missouri’s education fund) most MO. police call the feds in on a bust, the feds seize the assets and split the money with the locals.

    Prior to ’93 the police were just keeping all of the assets or sending part of the assets (instead of turning ALL of the seized assets) over to the education fund as the existing law mandated. There were some other, frankly extraordinary abuses going on also. When everything came to light it was big news but no one got fired and the Legislature changed the law to require a felony conviction and reiterated the requirement to give the money to the education fund. The feds and locals now work together to skirt the law.

    Couple of articles on asset seizure that have information about Missouri among other states:

  5. Has it occurred to anyone that lawyers just might be encouraging brutality … wash my mouth out with soap and slap me upside the head for even thinking of such a thing ….

  6. There’s a conundrum here: on the one hand, the taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for defending a rogue cop. On the other hand, police officers shouldn’t get stuck for the cost of defending themselves against unwarranted or even frivolous accusations. It’s unfair, and it may cause police officers to refrain from using force even when it’s warranted. That could get civilians and/or fellow officers hurt.

    It seems to me that municipal officials have to make a preliminary determination. If the officer seems clearly guilty, the town should tell him to get his own lawyer and pay for it himself. But if he appears innocent – or the issue is murky – the town should defend him.

    In case the municipal officials make a wrong choice, there’s the possibility of correction after trial: the city should reimburse an acquitted defendant officer.

  7. Yeah, but who needs more officers or legal defense when there is booty to be had.

    Arrrgh, matey!

  8. Surely area police departments have considered just using drug seizure money for top-flight legal talent to defend against abusive drug raids?

    Turns out the cash isn’t available because the money is being spent on SUV’s and flat-screen TV’s. From today’s Boston Herald:

    The Herald reported yesterday that state police at Troop F at Logan International Airport bought seven 2011 Ford Explorers last month for top brass — including take-home SUVs for the major and three lieutenants — out of a forfeiture account controlled by a detective lieutenant.

    The spending spree, including the purchase of couches, furniture and flat-screen TVs, has raised questions about the use of drug seizure money, as critics contend the funds could be used to replace worn-out cruisers or pay for more troopers.

  9. Where I practice, officers are often represented by the same attorneys representing the municipality if a consistent joint defense is being presented. If there is a conflict, the municipality chooses which attorneys to retain to represent the officers. The municipality is required to provide the defense unless the officer acted either outside the scope of his employement or with malice, etc. However, there is a significant risk in refusing to provide a defense except in extreme cases. Once the municipality refuses to defend, the officer can enter into a stipulation for judgment with the plaintiff on almost any terms. Then, if a court later decides that the municipality erred in refusing to defend, it will have to pay the amount of the stipulated judgment against the officer and has no right to contest the amount.

  10. All the city police have detailed manuals and training videos based on national and international standards about how to handle any and every situation. And they can audio tape and /or video tape everything with off the shelf inexpensive technology. So if the police follow the manuals and document, they shouldn’t have any worries. The biggest deterrent would be for the officers to have to pay their own bills, or at least a co-payment.

    The attorney fees might be artificially inflated as part of a scheme to cover up some sort of kickbacks or other scheme that is not directly related to the lawsuits. The cops might even be getting bribed or blackmailed to hit people to generate legal fees.

  11. If you actually believe in the free market then torts are a correcting mechanism. The possibility of a large settlement is a cost that can be factored into the decision making process. In theory the potential cost of litigation should reduce the actual incidents of police brutality.

    It always makes me wonder why the strongest proponents of “free markets” tend to want “tort reform” and limits on liability.

  12. A new police chief and some new officers has got to be cheaper tan all the litigation in the long run.

    Second what Rafflaw said, the business I worked for hardly even took actions that rose to the level of compliance with the contract, let alone a step further. I’m thinking the generosity of the city may account for some portion of the (at first glance) high number of court cases.

    From the article the possibility of a conflict is very high; the city, contract negotiators and police apparently have a LOT of work to do going forward, what a can of worms.

  13. It seems to me if the three city attorneys are not enough, then the CITY can contract additional counsel at existing public-defender rates; which are presumably already determined. The common person represented by a public defender gets no guarantees of either competency or relevant legal experience (other than that their attorney passed the bar), neither should the cops.

    It seems corrupt to me to be paying anything in excess of their contract anyway, or at least some form of fiscal irresponsibility. If just one firm got almost half a million, I imagine the total is in the neighborhood of a million. In a town of 70,000, an extra million to the schools, public transportation or other infrastructure could be doing some real good for everybody.

    And if cops had to WORRY about brutality charges, maybe there would be fewer incidents resulting in charges.

  14. One question that I have always had…. If you look at the city as a Corporation…. most have A of Incorp….etc… No Municipality should have to pay for the intentional Torts of its Officers, Directors or those acting within there control…. Unless it is in the City Charter….etc…it is an Ultra Vires act…. Think about it….

  15. That is a lot of lawsuits for such a small town. It should tell the officials that the police force needs overhauling. I don’t understand why the city would pay for attorney fees beyond what their contract with the officer requires. If they are not obligated to pay, they shouldn’t pay. However, I do think this smells of political issues at work. Did I see Mespo in that article?

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