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Matt Browne clears the air
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

Over the past two years, your readers have been subjected to an incredible amount of hyperbole and rhetoric regarding the Matt Browne case against the City of Lathrop.  While not all of this palaver can be attributed to the City, its legal counsel has contributed a great deal to the misinformation written, as well as the lack of factual information that has not been provided about the case.  As a result, I am convinced that the Lathrop City Council is not fully informed as to the facts surrounding my claim and has been rendered powerless.  For the benefit of the City Council and the public at large, I offer the following short synopsis of the facts at hand and status as to where I currently stand:

•Back in July 2007, I was placed on administrative leave for six months without any explanation or documentation to explain why and with my last evaluation on record indicating nearly perfect performance.
• The former City Manager (Yvonne Quiring) tried to force me to resign after handing me a draft notice of termination that was full of half truths and undocumented fabrications.  I obviously refused to resign and I was subsequently terminated in a manner that did not follow due process, applicable law or even the City’s own personnel rules.  The City, many months later, would release both Yvonne Quiring and Marilyn Ponton,my direct supervisor, in part, because of their mishandling of the case.
•I filed for unemployment benefits and was denied by the City.  I was forced to appeal to the State’s Employment Development Department and after many weeks and a lengthy hearing in front of an independent hearing officer, the State found that the City had no justification to fire me and I was granted unemployment benefits.  
• Along with my attorney, I fought for an open public hearing before the City Council to reinstate me to my job and was denied.  At the City’s insistence and only after my initial objections did I concede to the City hiring a hearing officer to deliberate the case.  After weeks of testimony, I had to wait months for a decision.  As we all know, Douglas Barton, the City’s paid hearing officer, found that there was no basis for the termination and that I must be reinstated with full back pay and benefits.  That was in April 2009 and the City Council has still not acted to reinstate me.
•Again, after many months and after repeated pleas to the City Council to act on the case and reinstate me, the City hastily asked me to consider mediation in finding an acceptable settlement to the case.  The City, and its insurance carrier, the San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority, only offered mediation after I initially provided an offer to the City that would have released them from all future claims.  Considering the years of mental, physical, financial and reputational damage I have endured, I felt that my offer was more than fair. Of course, the City balked at my offer and then only offered mediation.  I only agreed to mediation since I felt I still wanted to work at Lathrop and thought I would be appealing to the human nature of the Council.  I believed there was a chance that the mediator might be able to help communicate to the City what I have been through.  My attorney had informed the City in writing of our intent to file a lawsuit to compel the City Council to act on reinstatement back in June of this year, but I decided to accept the City’s offer to mediate in order to give them another chance.  However, now that mediation has proven ineffective as explained below, it may be absolutely necessary for us to ask the Court to force the City Council to do what it should have done many months ago.

It seems the only thing the City wishes to achieve in this case is the ability to use its $1 million insurance policy to pay off its previous ineffective legal counsel and other debts relating to the case and avoid finding a just and fair settlement for both parties.  The City has reportedly spent over a quarter million dollars on legal fees to the Colantuono law firm alone;  money paid to lawyers that have only served to prolong the case, contribute to the decision-makers’ and public’s confusion and increase the City’s exposure to liability and future legal action.

Despite all the time that has passed, the State’s favorable judgment, the City’s own hearing officer finding in my favor, I still provided the City the opportunity to work out a mutual solution in the mediation process; an offer that the City certainly did not deserve and they have now apparently blown.  We wait, inexplicably, for the City to again counter to one of our offers made through the mediator.  However, we are still far apart and I’m afraid I will have to endure more hardship as we will have no choice but to file a lawsuit, since the City Council has yet to act and the City and its legal representatives continue to bargain in bad faith.  The only reason we have not yet filed with the Superior Court is that a lawsuit for damages cannot be filed without all administrative remedies being exhausted; this means the City Council must make some sort of decision to reinstate or not reinstate and under what terms.  The only lawsuit we have at our disposal at this time is to ask the Court to compel the Council to act.  Only after the Council acts (or is forced to act), can we ask a Court to fully ameliorate the situation.

I have been told by many of those around me, even those I had never even met before that the injustice to me is unspeakable and the City as a whole should be ashamed.  While at the end of the day I believe justice will certainly prevail, the path to fairness remains painful and nearly unbearable.

Matthew E. Browne
Oct. 6, 2009