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Coughlin to Get $7,500 : Duarte Settles Ex-Councilman's Lawsuit

February 25, 1988|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

DUARTE — A $7,500 settlement has been reached in a $1-million lawsuit filed against the city by former Councilman James Coughlin.

Coughlin had charged that his colleagues duped him into resigning his City Council seat so that he could become city attorney but never intended to let him keep the job.

Councilman John Van Doren, one of several past and current city officials named in the suit, refused to sign the settlement and said that he would discuss with his attorney the possibility of filing a malicious-prosecution suit against Coughlin.

The other officials named in the suit have signed the settlement. They are Mayor John Hitt, Councilman Terry Michaelis, former Councilmen Mervin Money and Ed Beranek and Planning Commissioner Jim Kirchner.

Hitt announced the out-of-court settlement at the council meeting Tuesday. He said in a prepared statement that the action was taken to avoid legal fees that would have been far greater than the amount of the settlement. He added that the settlement was not an admission of guilt or liability on the part of the defendants.

Three councilmen--Hitt, Michaelis and John Fasana, who was not named in the suit--voted in closed session to approve the settlement. Van Doren voted against it, and Councilwoman Ginny Joyce abstained, citing a conflict of interest because Coughlin is her attorney.

Van Doren discussed his position against the settlement in a letter he wrote to the council Feb. 12. "It has been my position from the outset that this litigation is totally unfounded and that it was filed for political and malicious purposes," he wrote.

"I cannot subscribe to extortionist tactics and support the payment of any city funds to buy our peace in connection with this malicious and groundless lawsuit," his letter continued.

Van Doren said that although it might have cost more to defend the suit than to settle, Coughlin has no right to any money, and that any payment to him would constitute a gift of public funds.

Coughlin, who has a law practice in Arcadia, said he does not plan to pursue the suit.

"The case is settled as far as I am concerned," he said.

In the lawsuit, filed in November, Coughlin, 61, charged that city officials conspired to oust him after he had served on the council 19 years.

The city attorney's job became available last March when William Camil resigned. After Coughlin stepped down from his council seat in April to seek the job, the council suspended its search for a city attorney and began seeking a replacement for Coughlin on the council.

Beranek was appointed to the council in early May, and Coughlin was selected as city attorney on May 19.

Coughlin served as city attorney until June 23, when, he said, he was told by the council that the city would hire someone else for the job. John Lawson, deputy city attorney for El Monte, was hired July 14.

Council members have refused to say why Coughlin was replaced. But last year a group of residents, including Kirchner, questioned some expense claims of council members, saying they were too high and not all related to city business.

In his suit, Coughlin charged that Van Doren, Beranek, Kirchner and Hitt told him that if he did not reimburse the city for unspecified expenses or resign from the council, they would file criminal charges against him.

The council in May disallowed $126 in expenses that Coughlin submitted for representing Duarte as city attorney at a convention in Palm Springs on the grounds that those expenses were not related to city business.

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