City attorneys say the darndest things, don't they?
Last week the city of Glendale agreed to pay Edmond Ovasapyan a $1.7-million settlement for being wrongly detained for eight months as part of a murder investigation. In response, City Atty. Scott Howard was quoted as saying, "We would have wanted a different outcome."
Really? Which outcome is he referring to? The one where officers didn't arrest the wrong guy and force him to lose eight months of his life in jail? Or would it be the outcome where the city didn't draw the case out and instead accepted the $400,000 settlement offer Ovasapyan's attorney, Mark Geragos, said the city initially refused? Because in my opinion, either of those would have been different and better outcomes — especially the latter.
Yes, it is easy to Monday-morning quarterback on cases like these. And no, I do not know all the intimate details of the matter. But I do know that it is not too often when a suspected criminal hires an attorney and offers a municipality $400,000 to settle a matter involving his false arrest.
From far away, it looks like this confrontation with Ovasapyan should have ended about $900,000 earlier than it did. It also appears that the city stubbornly dug its heels in hoping for a judgment that would have justified sending an innocent man to jail.
As an aside, I'm willing to bet that Ovasapyan would be inclined to agree with the city attorney's cavalier response to the settlement agreement. I'll bet he would have preferred not to have been arrested and detained for eight months. It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to guess that is probably the different outcome he would have preferred.
Howard was also quoted as saying, "Perhaps emotion got in the way." That quote frightens me. I know everyone is human (all lawyer jokes aside) and subject to giving in to their feelings, but this case shouldn't have been fueled by emotion. It should have been argued on the merits of its strength.
I know from personal experience what can happen when you go into a courtroom looking for a positive outcome based on your emotional plea. There's a pretty good chance you are going to lose.
I was involved in a real estate lawsuit a number of years ago. I had a compelling amount of evidence indicating that I was the victim of fraud in the purchase of my home. I presented that evidence to the previous owners and offered them a settlement of about $20,000 to repair defects that were not disclosed at the time of sale.
The owners got indignant, denied any wrongdoing and refused to pay. I hired an attorney, who likewise agreed that my evidence was overwhelming, and we went to trial. After numerous appeals and mediations and nearly three years of struggle, my ex-wife and I were awarded six times our original settlement offer — almost all of which went to pay attorney fees.
Nevertheless, the sellers dug their heels in the soil of righteous indignation, and lost. But not before suing just about everyone around them, including two of their own attorneys for malpractice.
I have seen firsthand, and more than once in vastly different court rooms, how disastrous allowing emotion into your pleadings can be. So when the city attorney admits that emotion may have gotten the better of him — although an honest insight — it also feels less than professional.
So is there a moral or anything to be learned from the case involving Ovasapyan? If anything, I would hope that Howard and those in control of the city attorney's office have learned to keep emotion out of their legal toolbox and, as the popular country song goes, "Know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em."
GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.