Ex-Newport Beach police dispatcher, officer settle suits for $500,000

Husband, wife to get $500,000 to settle retaliation suits against Newport Beach police, city

A husband and wife who sued Newport Beach and its police department for alleged retaliation and wrongful termination have settled their lawsuits for $500,000, according to city officials.

The agreement with former dispatcher Christine Hougan and former police Officer John Hougan puts an end to a trial that was already two weeks into testimony.

It also resolves a dispute about whether Newport Beach police officers would be asked to take the witness stand and testify about alleged misconduct on the job.

"I don't like this aspect of litigation," City Manager Dave Kiff said of the settlement. "It means that the city won't have an opportunity to present its side of the case to the jury, and we think the trial was going very well for us."

In a statement, city officials denied any liability and said they were willing to take the case all the way to a verdict. The payout will come from the city's insurance carriers, who made the decision to end the cases, Kiff said.

In separate lawsuits, the Hougans claimed they were fired as punishment for testimony that John Hougan gave in 2009 that helped a coworker win a lawsuit alleging that the department passed him over for promotions because of rumors that he was gay.

Christine Hougan's suit said that her 2012 firing was also motivated by the fact that she was a woman and that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

She was seeking more than $1 million in compensation for lost wages and therapy costs, her attorneys said.

Lawyers representing Newport Beach argued the city was justified in firing her for many reasons, including instances where she cursed a coworker, wrote profane emails to her husband using her work email, bad-mouthed the chief of police by calling him an "idiot" and confronted him in public when she believed he made a sexual comment about her during a private hearing.

John Hougan was fired in 2011 for repeatedly viewing pornography on work computers, according to city officials.

He was previously demoted from sergeant for the same reason, according to court testimony.

Christine Hougan's case began with opening statements Jan. 13, while John Hougan's was scheduled for later this year. The settlement effectively ends both cases.

Proceedings in the ongoing case were recently bogged down while a judge weighed whether he would allow Newport Beach police officers to testify about personnel issues in Christine Hougan's case.

Christine Hougan's lawyers hoped to demonstrate an uneven standard of discipline by asking the cops about an officer who was alleged to have had sex on the job and another who allegedly was drinking in a city-owned vehicle without being fired, according to court documents.

The city argued this was just a tactic to smear the department.

Jeremiah Dobruck writes for Times Community News.

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