By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
As the lawyers file out, Surjue confronts Mann and complains that she will be taking exams to complete her undergraduate studies that week and could have a conflict. “The judge is not going to change the date,” he snaps, leaving his client standing there, despondent and alone. Outside the courtroom, Mann and Anderson-Barker refuse to talk to the Weekly. “The damage is done,” Mann says.
A review of the court file raises questions about why Mann would not want to go to trial against one of Inglewood’s most notorious police officers. Officer Morse has provoked a lengthy record of citizen complaints and city officials failed to act against him. And a look at how Mann achieved the settlement — which guaranteed him more money than his client — shows that he capitalized on mistakes by Inglewood’s attorneys, rather than negotiating a settlement on principles related to justice concerning a public entity, which, by law, must be open to public view.
A critical position taken by attorneys for Inglewood in Surjue’s case was that she should have to prove Morse and Darvish violated her civil rights before she could claim any liability on the part of anyone in the department, including Sergeant Dennis Brown, who she claims illegally searched her house; Watch Commander John Knapp, who Surjue claims discouraged her from filing a complaint against Morse; and Police Chief Ronald Banks, who repeatedly ratified Morse based on reports from Internal Affairs, despite a disturbing pattern of alleged misconduct.
Inglewood argues unsuccessfully that Morse and Darvish merely carried out department policy as obedient employees when they illegally entered her home. And later, a dispute arose over whether Inglewood attorneys in their settlement offer had failed to address the claims of Surjue’s youngest son and her claims of liabilty against Morse’s overseers. Seizing the opportunity to guarantee a minimum settlement amount and payment of his own fees, which reportedly are above $500 per hour, Mann argued that Inglewood’s mistakes should not preclude him from negotiating for more money. “That one defendant buys its peace does not mean that the exposure of a co-defendant disappears in a poof,” Mann wrote on October 23.
Yet Mann and Anderson-Barker were seeking to facilitate closure for themselves more so than their client, while providing Inglewood officials with an opportunity to walk away quietly, by cajoling Surjue into a blanket settlement — one that contained a confidentiality clause. When Surjue voiced her complaints in the Weekly last month, Mann responded by urging the court to finalize her settlement “swiftly and privately.” At the same time, he asked after the fact for the secrecy clause to be taken out of the agreement.
Outside federal court Tuesday, Byrdsong, the lawyer for Inglewood, declines to speculate which direction Surjue’s case is going. “It’s a crapshoot at trial,” he says. He is not sure what the big deal about confidentiality is, either. “Michael Jackson got sued and they used a confidentiality clause,” he says. But what about a public entity that has a duty to disclose the taxpayer money it spends? “Confidentiality is not a foreign concept,” Byrdsong replies, noting that he has represented Los Angeles Unified School District, the city of Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and that they use such clauses all the time. “It’s a matter of closure.” But it is Surjue — or a jury — that gets to define closure now. “It is my case, not my attorneys.”