A judge ruled Thursday that the city of Newport Beach does not have to pay to defend fired Police Chief Arb Campbell and Capt. Anthony Villa in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by 10 current and former female employees.
The city had stopped paying Campbell and Villa’s lawyer in January--after the bill topped $13,000--saying the acts alleged in the lawsuit occurred outside the scope of employment and that the lawsuit created a conflict of interest for the city and the officers. Superior Court Judge James L. Smith upheld the city’s decision on Thursday, leaving Campbell and Villa to fend for themselves.
Attorneys’ fees for the suit could soar as high as $100,000.
“We’ll have to negotiate the money with our attorney,” Villa said after the brief hearing Thursday. “We’ll negotiate that when the time comes. We’ll come to some agreement with our attorneys.”
The lawsuit contends that the Newport Beach Police Department is “a hotbed of sexually offensive conduct,” accusing Villa of making lewd remarks, touching breasts and pressuring women to socialize with high-ranking officers. The suit says that Campbell knowingly condoned the behavior and accuses the pair of raping a dispatcher after a police party in 1981.
After the suit was filed in September, the city launched a three-month investigation that found evidence of sexual harassment and hostility at the department, then fired Campbell and Villa. The city has since paid six women who are not involved with the lawsuit $49,500 for harassment they may have endured.
Villa has appealed his firing and is scheduled for a Civil Service Commission hearing in June.
At Thursday’s hearing, attorney Jeff Epstein argued that until the women’s allegations are proved true or false, the city cannot determine whether the officers acted within the scope of their employment. But Smith said the city’s refusal to pay was a “reasonable” decision that Epstein is “stuck with,” adding that if the officers win the sexual harassment suit they might be able to recoup their legal fees.
“I don’t think it’s a cast-in-concrete type of deal,” he said. “They made a decision; it’s rational; it’s a decision they wanted to make. That’s a business decision. I’m not here to second-guess them on a business decision.”
Epstein promised to appeal the judge’s ruling.