Police lawyer bills at $1.2M

CITY HALL — Burbank officials have spent more than $1 million since May on litigation related to the ongoing investigations and lawsuits against the Police Department, and taxpayers will likely be on the hook for even more as the cases move through the courts, according to a memo to the City Council.

The latest tab comes as the city prepares to discipline and possibly fire 10 officers for various allegations of misconduct ranging from excessive use of force to neglect of duty and lying.

The termination proceedings are expected to yield more legal action against the city, further driving up costs, officials said.

Of the $1.2 million paid to 12 law firms and roughly 50 lawyers, $31,772 has gone to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for the services of former U.S. Atty. Debra Wong Yang at a rate of $882.63 per hour, according to the report.

The City Council in January set aside $1 million for Yang and police expert Merrick Bobb to provide legal oversight and help reform the Burbank Police Department, which for months has been grappling with civil rights lawsuits and federal probes into allegations of excessive force.

Bobb made nearly $29,880 as of March 31, and attorneys advising the city's independent investigation were paid $68,724, according to the report.

“We knew all along this was going to be an expensive process,” Mayor Gary Bric said. “I can assure our residents that we are being fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars and will continue to be with future allocations of moneys.”

The majority of legal fees paid to defend the city stem from a case filed by one lieutenant and four police officers alleging race- and gender-based discrimination, and that they experienced retaliation from the command staff when they complained.

Attorney Solomon Gresen filed the lawsuit in May on behalf of Lt. Omar Rodriguez and Officers Cindy Guillen-Gomez, Steve Karagiosian, Elfego Rodriguez and Jamal Childs.

City officials have since paid nearly $800,000 to defend themselves and officers.

Gresen, the attorney for the plaintiffs, maintained that he would have preferred a more “sensible approach” to handling the litigation.

“We expected the numbers to be this high simply based upon the city of Burbank’s ultra-aggressive litigation stance,” Gresen said. “It’s unfortunate for the taxpayers that in some cases people accused of wrongdoing have been in control of the purse strings.”

The next highest payout of $216,464 went to the firm Burke, Williams & Sorenson for representing the city in five cases, including those of Capt. Bill Taylor, Det. Angelo Dahlia and former Det. Christopher Lee Dunn.

Taylor in his lawsuit alleged that he was unfairly demoted from his post as deputy chief after he tried to compel Stehr to address a series of internal complaints.

Dahlia alleged that his civil rights were violated by a rogue group of cops who used intimidation, harassment and brutality to keep him and witnesses from talking about investigations into misconduct. Among his claims were that high-ranking members of the department investigating the 2007 robbery of Porto’s Bakery assaulted and beat witnesses and suspects “under the color of authority,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. Central District Court.

And Dunn, who as a member of the Los Angeles Police Department won the Medal of Valor before joining the Burbank Police Department, claimed in his lawsuit that he was subjected to racial taunts and retaliation before being unlawfully fired.

For the record: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that attorneys were paid $68,724 to advise Merrick Bobb. They advised investigator James Gardiner. Also, while a city report stated that Bobb was paid nearly $55,000 as of March 31, he has only billed for $29,880.

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