Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Update on jury’s more than $4.5 million civil rights award against the City of Cambridge.

Bob La Trémouille reports:

1. Update.
2. Analysis of case.
3. What the judge could be looking at.
4. My experiences.

1. Update.

The jury decision against the City of Cambridge in Monteiro v. Cambridge continues to be on the judge’s desk.

The jury found that Cambridge had retaliated against a black woman for filing a civil rights action against Cambridge. She was the head of the Police Review Board until fired, according to the jury, in retaliation for filing the civil rights complaint.

The jury awarded slightly over $1 million in actual damages and $3.5 million in penal damages.

The jury rendered its verdict on May 23, 2008. On May 29, the City of Cambridge moved for prompt hearing on post trial motions. The motions were filed on June 12, and a hearing conducted on June 19. On July 3, Cambridge filed something described as “Defendant’s Post Trial Submissions.”

On July 15, which I became aware of on July 22 when checking the docket, Cambridge filed a motion to supplement the record on appeal.

Cambridge is trying to get the judge to say that the jury decision makes no sense and throw it out. In the alternative, Cambridge is trying to get the judge to reduce the award.

2. Analysis of case.

It truly is impossible to enter into a specific analysis of the case. I did not witness any part of the trial. I have not read the transcript. I can’t even read the papers because they are on the judge’s desk while she thinks the matter over.

The judge hearing the case is Justice Bonnie H. MacLeod.

A similar motion was heard by the trial judge in the first trial of the case. In that trial, the jury found against the plaintiff on her primary claim of civil rights abuses, but was unable to come to a verdict on the plaintiff’s claim of retaliation.

The docket in the trial indicates some instances in which the Court was asked to intervene on preliminary matters.

Service in the case was made on September 25, 2001. A joint pre-trial memorandum was filed on March 1, 2005. Trial was held on April 12, 2005, matter taken under advisement, Catherine A White Justice.

It is not clear from the docket, but my understanding is that the jury found against the plaintiff on the main civil rights complaint and was unable to come to a verdict on the retaliation complaint.

On June 2, 2005, Judge White denied the City of Cambridge’s motion to order a finding against the plaintiff on the retaliation claim.

There is a lot of similarity between what apparently faced Justice White in 2005 and what is now facing Justice MacLeod. The most important difference is that the 2005 jury could not come to a decision and the 2008 jury came to a decision with a vengeance.

3. What the judge could be looking at.

There have been United States Supreme Court decisions on penal damages. The jury’s award rather clearly seems to push the limit allowed. A recent very major maritime decision by the U.S. Supreme Court limited penal damages to the amount of actual damages.

Clearly, Justice MacLeod is thinking things over and forging a decision with an eye to ensuring that it will stand up on appeal.

Clearly, as well, once a jury has reached a decision, there is very strong bias to retaining the decision. There has to be very good reason to overturn a decision.

Justice White in 2005 found that she could not order a decision against the plaintiff on the retaliation issue after the jury deadlocked. The law is such that the situation has to be extremely clear to make such an order.

The way the law works, it is highly unlikely that Justice MacLeod will overturn the jury’s decision.

That leaves the issue of damages and penal damages. The first point is whether damages were accurately awarded. The second point is whether penal damages are appropriate or are excessive.

$1 million plus in real damages is what the jury found to be the actual monetary harm done.

Something caused the jury to award $3.5 million in penal damages. It is reasonable to assume that the jury was given reason to have very strong contempt for the actions of the City of Cambridge.

To the extent that there was supporting testimony, the judge is probably trying to put that testimony together to determine if the $3.5 million in penal damages.

4. My experiences.

I can say very little about the Cambridge City Manager directly. I have been exposed to his organization in the community and to his representatives in the Development Department. The exposure leaves me with a very strong feeling that parallels the apparent feeling of the jury.

I have very strong concern for the behavior of the City of Cambridge on Environmental and Civil Rights matters. Judging the behavior of the City of Cambridge on the basis its own rhetoric, I see good reason to have contempt for the City of Cambridge.

Of the top of my head, I can remember one situation in which the Election Board flatly and simply refused to obey a clearly applicable case and threw out more than half the signatures on an election nomination petition. A strikingly bizarre “decision” from the City Solicitor blessed this outrageous action.

I can go on and on about outrageous behavior by the “neighborhood groups” and individuals which are aligned with the Cambridge City Manager. There have been repeated complaints about behavior of appointees of the Cambridge City Manager. His number two person, in particular, has earned a lot of concern, to use the nicest word conceivable.

The actions commonly can get quite personal.

My experience tells me that the judge probably has plenty in the record to justify the $3.5 million penal damage verdict.

We will see.