Retired officer sues Newport Beach Police Department

A retired Newport Beach police officer has filed the latest in a string of lawsuits initiated by various parties over the past few years alleging that the department had been riddled with corruption and favoritism.

Robert Morton, in his lawsuit filed Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court, alleged that department leaders retaliated against him after he reported illegal promotional practices and questioned lucrative side agreements for former Police Chief Bob McDonnell, among others, that allowed them to "double dip" into public coffers.

City Attorney Aaron Harp said Friday that he had not yet reviewed the complaint, but that based on the claim Morton filed with the city in October, he expects that the city will argue that the claims have no validity.

Morton had filed an initial claim against the city in September, a step that must be taken before suing, but Harp said it was rejected as insufficient.

On Oct. 22, Morton filed an amended claim, which Harp said the city denied on "procedural grounds" and on the grounds that, "We don't think these claims from any [of the former officers] have any merit to them."

Morton retired April 7, after having been bumped down to the Patrol Division from a more prestigious "coveted" assignment in 2009, he wrote in the October claim.

"As a result of my protests and the information I provided the city and NBPD as set forth herein, I was harassed, retaliated and discriminated against," he wrote in the claim. "I was denied fair promotional processes, which resulted in the loss of prestige and income associated therewith. The monetary effect is that I did not receive a captain's compensation during my employment and post-retirement."

Assistant City Attorney Michael Torres said Monday that the city still had not had the chance to review the complaint.

Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Kathy Lowe deferred to the city for comment, and attorneys listed as representing Morton could not be reached as of Monday afternoon.

The bulk of the allegations are aimed at former police chiefs McDonnell and John Klein, along with former City Manager Homer Bludau.

The 27-page complaint details alleged instances of wrongdoing over the course of several years, starting in 2005. Klein and Bludau are named as defendants along with the city and the department. Current Police Chief Jay Johnson is not mentioned.

In July 2008, according to the lawsuit, "Morton filed the first grievance in his 25-year law enforcement career," regarding the promotional practices.

After that grievance was filed, the document says, Morton finished in last place on a police captain eligibility list and was the target of hostility.

Another former officer, Lt. Steve Shulman, finished in second to last place, according to the complaint. He and former Lt. Craig Frizzell have also sued the city. Harp said Friday that their case is set for trial Feb. 24, 2014.

By December 2008, Morton and the Police Management Assn. had come to the conclusion that the department's promotional process was "biased, corrupt and not in compliance with the civil service roles and that Klein had been hired illegally," the document alleges.

Klein left the department in July 2009.

While the lawsuit does not specify damages sought, the claim puts the number at more than $500,000 based on Morton's non-expert calculations.

"The harassment, retaliation and discrimination also caused me to suffer emotional distress, which I'm unable at the present time to determine monetarily," he wrote.

Twitter: @jillcowan

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