Settlement stunner ends ticket quota trial
March 13, 2014
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A settlement reached during the noon hour Thursday abruptly ended a civil trial pitting a former Paso Robles police officer against his one-time employer for allegedly ordering unlawful traffic ticket quotas as part of a relentless quest for more city revenues.
Terms of the settlement, called “confidential” by San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford, were not immediately known, but the agreement came after opening statements by both sides’ attorneys.
Paso Robles Police Chief Robert Burton said after announcement of the settlement that city officials would release a statement later today, but had no further comment. The trial had been proceeding in the Paso Robles courthouse.
(Burton subsequently issued the following statement: “Employees of the Paso Robles Police Department have worked hard as a team to strengthen the department and keep our focus of protecting and serving the community of Paso Robles. Now that the trial has ended we can pay our full attention to serving the community and make it a safer place for all.”)
Jon Tatro, a 25-year veteran of the Paso Robles department, said he and other patrol officers were required to write increasingly frequent traffic tickets in order to reach a non-specified financial goal. Such quotas are illegal under California law.
Tatro said he had reported the apparent violation of law to supervisors, including then-chief Lisa Solomon-Chitty, and the only result was retaliation against him. He was scheduled to be the first plaintiff’s witness.
Tatro’s attorney, Jeffrey A. Lipow of Encino, told the nine-woman, three-man jury during opening arguments earlier Thursday that “the evidence would show” that city officials conspired with Solomon-Chitty to generate additional revenues for city coffers by increasing the number of traffic citations.
In an email to CalCoastNews prior to the trial’s opening, Lipow noted, “During [the process of] discovery, we uncovered substantial information to support Jon’s claim, not the least of which were emails and memos between former Chief Solomon and [Paso Robles City Manager] Jim App about raising revenues for the city through traffic tickets.”
David Cumberland, representing the city of Paso Robles, told the jury he would be able to demonstrate that Tatro himself violated procedures and department regulations as he attempted to call attention to the alleged quota system.
Following announcement of the settlement, Cumberland declined comment other than to say, “I think the system worked.” Asked if he was satisfied with the settlement, he said simply, “Yes.”
Lipow noted, “We came to a financial resolution of the case, and as a result of that, the lawsuit is over. The city will have to deal with it, and Mr. Tatro will be able to go on with his life.” He suggested that city officials might be forthcoming about settlement details, “but I’m not at liberty to disclose that.”
Tatro said he was “satisfied” with the settlement and added, “I’d like to thank CalCoastNews for how they have covered this story.”
When Crawford announced the settlement, jury members exploded in apparent joy. The trial had been predicted to last more than two weeks.
(Updated Thursday at 4:38 p.m. to incorporate Chief Burton’s follow-up statement.)