Clean water, wrongful convictions comprise bulk of county settlements
City News Service | 2/9/2018, midnight
Los Angeles County spent more than $145 million fighting and paying for lawsuits alleging wrongful conviction, excessive use of force, medical malpractice and violation of federal clean water laws, among other claims, during fiscal year 2016-17, according to a report received this week by the Board of Supervisors.
The data, originally requested in November, was approved without any comment from the board as a “receive and file’’ item. In years past, the board has called for a presentation on the data, which provides a look into mistakes made and has been a catalyst for reform.
Tens of millions of dollars in claims settled against the Sheriff’s Department over the years helped build support for management and policy changes, including the appointment of an inspector general and citizens oversight commission.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who chairs the board, submitted a motion, approved by the full board, designating all future reports for “receive and file’’ treatment.
The report was not on a list of pre-board meeting “highlights’’ published weekly by the county’s public information office, though the $1.3 million purchase of a mobile compounding pharmacy was listed as an item of interest.
According to the report, nearly half of the $145 million total was spent on attorneys’ fees and expenses, the bulk of it to outside counsel. Those fees and costs were up about 9 percent over 2015-16 levels.
The balance was spent paying out $70.2 million to settle 242 cases and $9.1 million to satisfy nine judgments. Those numbers were up year-over-year largely because of a $10.1 million payout to Francisco Carrillo Jr., who spent 20 years of a life sentence in prison for a fatal drive-by shooting in Lynwood before a judge overturned his conviction.
The second costliest settlement was $4.5 million paid out to the National Resources Defense Council and Baykeeper, who alleged that flood control authorities allowed pollution of Los Angeles watersheds and beaches in excess of regulatory standards. The third most expensive was a $3.5 million medical malpractice settlement involving a Harbor-UCLA Medical Center patient who suffered a brain injury while being treated for a chronic infection.
Two other $3 million settlements involved a dangerous road condition and the drowning of a 17-year-old boy at a pool in Jesse Owens Park. Twenty-one settlements in all topped $1 million, accounting for almost three-quarters of total settlements paid.
Of the nine judgments granted, three were in excess of $1 million and all those involved the Sheriff’s Department.
A $3.5 million judgment was paid to Jonathan Castro, who was picked up for public drunkenness and then beaten to the point of permanent brain injury by another inmate while sobering up in a cell at the sheriff’s West Hollywood station. More than $1 million each was also paid to an unarmed suspected vandal shot by sheriff’s deputies and a motorcyclist injured in a collision with a patrol car.
The number of total new cases filed fell to 707, the lowest total in the last seven years, according to the report. The Sheriff’s Department saw a 40 percent decline in excessive force cases and deputy-involved shooting cases were down by one-third, though the department still ranked number one in litigation costs, spending $68.6 million.
Nearly 300 cases filed related to lower-profile issues such as auto liability and dangerous conditions.
Eighty-two claims were related to county employment. No breakdown was divided on the type of claims and whether they involved sexual harassment or discrimination, for example.
A separate annual report on county risk management—also filed without comment by the board—noted that 187 employment claims unrelated to workers’ compensation were filed against the county in 2016-17, an almost 30 percent increase over the prior year.
That risk report pointed to new 2017 training and continuing education as the means to cut down the number of claims.
The county won about 40 percent of the 20 cases it took to trial in 2016-17 and received verdicts of less than the plaintiffs asked for 70 percent of the time. It has a very high success rate of 94 percent on appeals, though it lost the Castro case on appeal.