By Paul Thissen
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 11/09/2010 09:54:55 PM PST
Updated: 11/10/2010 05:29:01 PM PST

CONCORD — The City Council voted Tuesday to pay $750,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former police officer, — on the condition that her lawyer never file another such suit against the city.

The city will pay $250,000 to former officer Lisa Capocci and $500,000 in legal fees to her attorney’s firm, Casper, Meadows and Schwartz. The cost will be covered by the city’s insurance, City Attorney Craig Labadie said.

Stan Casper, Capocci’s attorney, said the settlement vindicates her after a year and a half of legal wrangling.

“No matter how the city wants to spin this, no defendant pays this kind of money if they are really confident that the department treated Lisa Capocci fairly,” he said.

Casper said the city knew it would have to pay Capocci’s attorney’s fees if she won, “but rather than face up to that reality, the city chose to litigate for two years while refusing to consider a settlement.”

Labadie disagreed with Casper’s characterization, saying Capocci was treated fairly during her time as an officer in Concord.

“We view this a business decision based on the cost of defense and potential outcomes at trial,” Labadie said.

A monthlong trial, with many police officers serving as witnesses, could have disrupted city operations, said Mark Coon, assistant city attorney.

Trial expenses, regardless of the outcome, would have been about $200,000, he said. The city’s expenses in the case were about $600,000, he said.

The first $500,000 in costs were paid by the city; after that, its insurance covers additional legal fees and the cost of the settlement, Coon said.

In April, City Manager Dan Keen described the suit — and two related suits against the police department — as an effort by one law firm to “extract” settlements from the city.

Most of the jury had been seated last week when the judge announced the settlement.

Casper also represented two other female officers who settled sexual harassment lawsuits with the city in 2009. One received a $250,000 settlement; the other received nothing. In 1998, he represented a group of female officers who won a $1.25 million settlement against the department — $690,000 for the women, and $560,000 in attorney’s fees.

In the past two decades, Casper has won settlements in more than a half-dozen sexual harassment cases against government agencies from Hayward to Walnut Creek to Solano County. None of those cases went to trial.

Two other discrimination suits already filed against the city are still pending; Casper will continue to represent the officers who filed those claims. Labadie and Casper said they expect both cases to enter mediation.

“My firm feels it has done enough to bring attention to problems in the department,” Casper said. “Believe it or not, we don’t take pleasure in suing the city.”

Capocci’s lawsuit asserted that one of her supervisors, then-Cpl. Michael Hansen, made inappropriate sexual advances toward her. When she complained, Hansen and his colleagues retaliated by filing a half-dozen groundless internal affairs investigations against her, according to the suit. Capocci also contended that other officers were slow to back her up on calls.

After being stripped of her position as a K-9 officer, Capocci quit the department in July, a year after filing the suit, no longer able to tolerate the work environment, Casper said.

The city says the department treated Capocci fairly and investigated her complaints. Hansen was disciplined, though Capocci’s suit called the discipline minimal.

The internal investigations against her were all legitimate, according to the city’s court filings. The city said that Capocci failed to arrest a drunken driver she should have arrested, made a secret recording of a conversation with co-workers, attended the county fair while she said she was sick and made inappropriate comments to Hansen.

Casper said Capocci is “resolved to moving forward with her professional life at a new police agency.”

“She wants to convey her best wishes to those in the (Concord Police Department) who were supportive and did assist her during her tenure,” Casper said.