Ex-Fire Chief Files $6.2-Million Lawsuit Against Hermosa Beach

Times Staff Writer

Former Fire Chief Ronald Simmons filed a $6.25-million lawsuit Wednesday against Hermosa Beach, the city manager and a civic activist, saying they were responsible for him being unduly charged with insurance fraud and theft.

Although Simmons was exonerated, his attorney, Stephen Garcia, said Monday that Simmons cannot find a comparable job and he and his wife have lost friends and have been humiliated. "Once you throw the fireball out, it's a little difficult to extinguish it," Garcia said.

City Manager Gregory T. Meyer could not be reached for comment, but in earlier statements he denied any wrongdoing.

Simmons, who was fire chief from October, 1981, until July, 1985, applied for insurance coverage for his wife, Barbara Myer, in July, 1984, according to city records. They had been married five years, but under the city's insurance policy spouses can be added without question only within 30 days of marriage or during open-enrollment periods.

Simmons, 54, did not learn that his wife was not covered until the following October, when she needed surgery on a broken ankle, Deputy Dist. Atty. Herb Lapin said in an interview.

Simmons went to City Hall that day and reported his insurance problem, Lapin said. An official told him to file a new application with different dates to obtain coverage, Lapin said.

Lapin would not identify the official, who he said is under investigation, but Simmons claims in the lawsuit filed in Torrance Superior Court that the official was Meyer.

The falsified application was the basis for one insurance fraud and two grand theft charges brought against Simmons last September.

Municipal Court Judge Candace D. Cooper dismissed the charges in March on the recommendation of Lapin, who said Simmons lacked criminal intent and was only acting on the advice of another official.

Simmons filed a $2-million claim against the city and Meyer last week, making the same accusations as are made in the suit.

The district attorney's investigation was initiated after activist Roger Creighton sued the city to gain access to its insurance records and then filed a complaint with the district attorney's office regarding discrepancies he claimed to have found in the files of Simmons, former Mayor Jack Wood and former personnel administrator Carolyn Smith.

Before Simmons filed suit, Garcia said: "Creighton didn't check out the situation before he started shooting his mouth off all over town. It's defamation at best."

But, he added, "I don't see him as the big bad guy here."

Creighton said Wednesday that "because this lawsuit has happened, this will enable me to get a full airing from Mr. Simmons on exactly what he did."

Lapin said this week that he has closed the investigation on Smith and will announce next week whether he will file charges. Smith has said that James Brisson was her husband when he was enrolled in the city's policy from December, 1982, to August, 1985. Lapin, however, has said that evidence suggests that she did not marry Brisson until after she resigned in July, 1985.

Lapin closed his investigation on Wood last October without filing any charges, even though the former mayor admitted enrolling his girlfriend in the city's insurance program as his wife before they were married, giving fictitious information on the forms.

Wood did not make any insurance claims against the policy, but could have been charged with petty theft because he received reduced premiums for his girlfriend's coverage through the group policy, Lapin said.

The insurance company compromised such a charge, however, when it accepted Wood's reimbursement for the difference between the two rates, Lapin said.

City Clerk Kathleen Midstokke said Tuesday that she will recommend that the City Council reject a $2-million claim that Simmons filed last week against the city and Meyer. Midstokke said the claim should be rejected at Tuesday's council meeting because it was filed more than 100 days after Simmons was charged--the date of the injury cited in the claim.

Under state law, a lawsuit cannot be brought against a government agency until after a claim is filed, which must be done within 100 days of the alleged injury.

Simmons and his wife are planning to move to Kansas City, Kan., in a couple weeks because of the problems they have faced since charges were filed in that investigation, Garcia said. "It's a little difficult to live down here when everyone thinks you're a criminal," he added.

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