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Lathrop pays $40K for violating rights
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LATHROP — Georgianna Reichelt says she is “extremely happy” with the way her complaint against the City of Lathrop was resolved. But she insists she did not do it for the money.

She recently reached a $40,000 settlement  in a lawsuit she filed against the city after Mayor Kristy Sayles ordered two deputies to escort her out of a council meeting when she refused to stop making what the mayor deemed were personal attacks. The incident happened at the March 14, 2008 council meeting.

The settlement was reached “in order to avoid further litigation and attorneys’ fees and costs” connected with her complaint that her constitutional rights were violated.

That was all she wanted to do – stand up for her rights, says the community activist whose voice has been heard for years on a variety of hot-button issues at many public meetings not only in the cities of Lathrop and Manteca but in San Joaquin County’s Board of Supervisor meetings as well.

“All I ask is, let me go to the meetings, say what I want to say and anybody can disagree with me, but I have a right (to speak). And that’s the way it should be. Government is the people, because it’s all up to the people and everybody should stick up for their own rights,” she says.

“I am extremely happy with the way my settlement came out. I could not be more pleased. I hope that anybody that feels that their rights are violated should stick up for their own rights, and that’s what I did.”

Stipulations in the settlement agreement  has the city paying $15,030 for Reichelt’s attorney’s fees, and $25,000 “for damages to Georgina (sic) Reichelt.”

Reichelt happy with city policy changes
Reichelt, however, clarified that the “dollar figure in the settlement is wrong because I had to pay the attorney before I ever got in and I was not reimbursed for that. If you’re going to hire an attorney, you have to pay a retainer, and I didn’t get compensated for the retainer. Nor did I ask because I just wanted to hire an attorney and I didn’t even think about it.”

The other part that made her happy with the settlement is that her complaint led to some positive changes in city policy. It resulted in the city adopting a resolution “amending the handbook of rules and procedures” in council meeting proceedings “to help avoid misunderstandings by (the) city and members of the public” as to the right of citizens to make public comments.

A part of that amendment reads: “The right of members of the public to address the City Council includes their right to criticize the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the City, or of the acts or omissions of the City Council and members of the City Council.”

The amendment adds that “all persons must preserve order and decorum” when the council is in session and that those addressing the council “may not engage in speech or conduct which is likely to provoke others to violent or riotous behavior, which disturbs the peace of the meeting by loud and unreasonable noise, which is irrelevant or repetitive, or which disrupts, disturbs, or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of any City Council meeting.”

It also provides a clause that allows the mayor or any presiding officer at a meeting, when that ruling on decorum is breached, to order that person to leave the meeting and, if they don’t do so, “may request any law enforcement officer … on duty at the meeting to remove the person from the Council Chambers.”

Since filing her lawsuit in March of last year, Reichelt has not made an appearance at any council meeting.

“I didn’t feel comfortable (going to the meetings),” she said. “But nobody said I couldn’t; it was my own decision. I decided it was not a good time for me to do.”

However, she continued going to the Lathrop Senior Center, taking part in the activities there as she always did, she said.

Reichelt said she was grateful for the way she was treated by “everyone in Lathrop” in the past year after she filed her complaint.

“I am so happy with Sheriff (Steve) Moore and him talking to the officers (the Lathrop deputies who escorted her out of the council meeting),” she said.

“I am happy with the respect that they offered me – and everyone in Lathrop – the City Council people, they were very respectful. The staff (at City Hall) and Senior Center were very respectful. Nobody pressured me – and I didn’t talk about (the case) to anybody, and everyone was extremely kind and nice to me.”

Reichelt was represented in her lawsuit by Davis attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan. The special counsel who represented the city was Hilda Cantu Montoy of Dowling, Aaron & Keeler, Inc.

Mayor ordered Reichelt out
Lathrop City Attorney Salvador Navarrete, who provided a copy of the settlement to the Bulletin, said no taxpayer’s money was used in the settlement. He said the funds came from the city’s insurance provider, Acclamation Insurance Management Service.

Contrary to stories that were written about the incident which identified the city attorney as the person who had Reichelt removed from the council meeting, Navarrete said “I didn’t have her removed.

“It’s clear from those who have discussed it publicly that it was not the city attorney that removed Reichelt. That’s clear in the video (of the meeting) also. I didn’t have her removed, and that’s been cleared also. Mr. (Councilman Sonny) Dhaliwal made comments to that effect, and the mayor has done clarifications” about that part of the incident, said Navarrete.

“The mayor did it. The city attorney never instructed anybody to remove Reichelt. The mayor runs the meetings, and she chose to remove her. She signaled to the police officers, and the rest is history,” clarified Dhaliwal.

He also did not hear the conversation that took place between Reichelt and the officers who stood on each side of her at the podium before they escorted her out.

“We couldn’t hear what was being said,” Dhaliwal said.

He added, “In my opinion, she (Reichelt) should have never been removed (from the council chambers); she was not being disruptive.”

Reichelt’s piece of advice to those who feel they are being victimized: “If you think or feel that your rights are being violated, stand up for yourself because you do have rights, and I feel that way about any meeting.”