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Mediation next step in Matt Browne case

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POSTED August 24, 2009 1:34 a.m.

LATHROP - It appears the City of Lathrop is not ready to wrap up the long-running Matt Browne wrongful-termination case which is now close to reaching $2.5 million dollars.


The Bulletin has learned that a non-binding mediation has been scheduled for Sept. 10 in connection with the settlement negotiations going on between the city and Browne and his legal counsel. Browne’s legal camp is asking for $1.7 million to settle the case. San Francisco public employee attorney Ellen Mendelson, who is representing Browne, told the Bulletin the city has not responded to that request as of the first week of August which was the date she requested for the city to respond.


Earlier, the Bulletin learned that the risk management insurance pool of which the City of Lathrop is a member, has agreed to pay $1 million dollars in the Browne settlement - with half to be paid this fiscal year and the other half payable for the next fiscal year - with the city reportedly coughing up the rest of the reported $1.5 million settlement. According to Browne’s attorney, they will accept the $1.5 million if the $1 million from the risk management pool is paid outright.


In the meantime, the Bulletin has also learned that Cynthia O’Neill, an attorney with Liebert, Cassidy and Whitmore Law Offices in San Francisco has been hired to help in the risk management negotiations with the Browne legal camp. Telephone calls on Friday seeking confirmation and comment from O’Neill were not returned.


Lathrop council officials have consistently refused to give any comments on anything related to the Browne case citing the ongoing talks and negotiations as the reason. O’Neill’s law office has reportedly been paid a $25,000 retainer fee for her legal services. It is not known at this time who will be responsible in paying O’Neill’s legal fee. Also not known at this time is how the Browne settlement will affect the city of Lathrop’s insurance coverage.


To date, Lathrop has spent upwards of $250,000 in legal and related fees in the more than two-year-old Browne wrongful termination case. Those costs are still climbing as the settlement negotiation continues.


The hearing officer who presided over the two-week hearing process late last year submitted his recommendations in the spring to the council. Those recommendations included re-instatement of Browne to his old job as chief building official, giving him all of his back pay plus vacation and sick leave compensations.


The council was supposed to vote on the hearing officer’s recommendations and either deny, accept or modify those recommendations. However, council members have so far not done that despite several closed-session discussions on the matter and despite being urged by several concerned residents to put closure on the case and stop the financial bleeding.


Browne’s wrongful termination case started in June 2007 when he was injured during the renovation and repairs of the Senior Center. He went on medical leave, but the day before he was scheduled to return to work following his release from his doctor, former city manager Yvonne Quiring placed him on administrative leave with pay without any prior notice or explanation, verbal or written. In the meantime, a private investigator hired by the city followed and videotaped Browne, with the gumshoe even following him to the men’s room at the Manteca Golf Course.


In February of 2008, Browne was fired by Quiring, again without any written explanation.


After filing his complaint, Browne requested that his hearing be open to the public and the news media but the city denied his request.
 
To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail ralbanorisso@mantecabulletin.com or call (209) 249-3536.

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