Spokane City Council members voted Monday to continue appealing a $700,000 jury verdict in favor of a Spokane police officer who was fired after allegations he threatened to kill his wife during a messy divorce six years ago.
The council approved a $60,000 increase in its contract with an outside law firm to carry the appeal against Officer Jay Mehring. The Spokane firm, Winston & Cashatt Lawyers, will now have an authorized maximum fee of $105,900.
Five council members voted unanimously on the contract increase as one of a group of routine items adopted on a consent agenda Monday afternoon. Council members Nancy McLaughlin and Amber Waldref were absent.
Council President Ben Stuckart declined to comment on the vote.
The council took the action at the request of City Attorney Nancy Isserlis. The contract is with the firm Isserlis left to join the city.
As part of the case, a jury awarded Mehring $250,000 in punitive damages against the police department, plus $45,675 in economic damages and $427,000 for emotional distress and pain and suffering.
The case also involves about $800,000 in attorney fees for Mehring’s lawyer, Bob Dunn.
Dunn said the total cost to the city, including interest, could reach more than $2 million if his client prevails.
An effort to mediate a settlement in recent months broke down, and now the two sides have briefs pending before Division 3 of the state Court of Appeals.
During the civil trial in 2011, the city was represented by Milt Rowland, a former assistant city attorney.
The city’s appeal was turned over to Winston & Cashatt in 2012 after Isserlis became city attorney.
Dunn said that Mehring continues to serve on the police force. “He’s as good an officer today as he ever was,” Dunn said.
Mehring’s ex-wife died earlier this year from cancer, his attorney said.
Dunn has argued that Mehring was singled out by former Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, who wanted to make him an example in an effort to create better discipline in a department troubled with allegations of wrongdoing and excessive force.
A jury acquitted Mehring on a charge of felony harassment. Mehring was reinstated to the force in 2008 with back pay after the acquittal.
Two Spokane police sergeants had said that Mehring threatened to burn down his estranged wife’s home with her in it. Mehring said his words were twisted and taken out of context.
Mehring’s civil claim accused Kirkpatrick and the department of libel, malicious prosecution, deprivation of due process rights and other violations.