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In Gates Settlement, Public Pays While Supervisors Evade Heat

November 25, 1990

I am writing about the article on the agreement of the county to pay $616,000 to the Ritter brothers in lieu of the $246,000 awarded by the jury to settle the case against Sheriff Brad Gates ("Gates Off Hook in Suit; County to Pay $616,000," Nov. 17).

The problem? The jury renders an award of $246,000, and then a date is set for the same jury to determine the amount of punitive damages, if any, against Gates. Normally Gates would be expected to pay any punitive damages personally, because that is the essence of such an award.

Meanwhile, the county supervisors are in a quandary; they want to help Gates. Woe is us! To that point, they haven't had the courage to take Gates to task for the three lawsuits he has lost, costing county taxpayers more than $1 million to date.

Golly! How can the supervisors pay punitive damages for Gates, if such damages are awarded, without subjecting themselves to public criticism?

Solution? Gates and the supervisors meet behind closed doors. Let's see now, hmmmm, if we tell the Ritters that we'll give up appealing the award of $246,000 if they will give up seeking punitive damages, we'll offer them $616,000 as a sweetener to settle everything. The additional $370,000 will not be punitive damages but part of the original judgment, and the taxpayers can pay the whole bill. The taxpayers will never see through that. After all, don't we keep getting elected?

Meanwhile, I'm sure the county supervisors will continue to moan about the loss of county revenues resulting from such things as city incorporations, continue to cut needed services and continue to raise their salaries as their territorial responsibilities shrink.

NICK NOVICK, Irvine

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