May 1, 2012 in City, News

Mediation set in Zehm case against Spokane Police

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

A federal judge has set a two-day mediation session to settle the $14.5 million civil suit filed against nine Spokane Police officers by the mother and estate of Otto Zehm.

U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko issued an order directing the Zehm family attorneys, City Attorney Nancy Isserlis and lawyers representing the city’s insurance carrier to meet on May 14 and 15. The parties apparently have agreed to allow U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan from Oregon to oversee those mediation sessions.

Attorneys Jeffry Finer and Breean Beggs filed the civil suit in 2009 on behalf of the mother and estate of Otto Zehm, a mentally ill janitor who died after a violent encounter with Spokane Police officers in 2006. Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., who was convicted of using excessive force and lying to investigators late last year, was named in the suit along with eight other members of the department.

Judge Suko halted proceedings in the case in the fall of 2009 after federal prosecutors alleged that Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi — who was fired last month — was using information gleaned from the case to help defend Thompson against criminal charges.

Finer said Hogan, the mediator, “is very highly regarded. He has been handling mega cases for some time now.”

Hogan entered senior status last year after becoming a federal magistrate judge in 1973. President George H.W. Bush appointed him to a new U.S. District Court seat in 1991.

Among the cases he has helped mediate include the $104 million agreement in 2007 to settle claims of sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Portland. He also has been appointed to mediate some still-unresolved claims made against the Catholic Diocese of Spokane in a similar case filed in 2004.

When Finer and Beggs initially filed the civil suit against the city, their claim indicated they were seeking $2.9 million. But federal court records indicate they are now demanding $14.5 million in federal court after more information has come to light about the confrontation with Zehm and subsequent police investigation, which Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez called an “extensive cover-up.”

“I can’t discuss the numbers,” Finer said, explaining that pre-trial filings in civil suits rarely reflect the final outcomes.

Under the city’s insurance plan, the city pays the first $1 million in liability litigation. The city’s insurance underwriter, American International Group, would then pay the next $10 million and the city would be on the hook for anything more.

Efforts to reach Isserlis were not immediately successful, but Finer indicated he and Beggs are pleased to finally reach this point in the litigation.

“All the parties are looking forward to getting together,” he said.

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