NEWPORT BEACH — City officials announced Thursday that they will no longer pay the legal bills of fired Police Chief Arb Campbell and Capt. Anthony Villa, accused of rape and sexual harassment in a lawsuit by 10 women who are current or former department employees.
Under state law, cities can refuse to pay for an employee's defense if a lawsuit's allegations concern actions outside the job, involve malice, or present a conflict of interest between the city and the defendant.
City Atty. Robert Burnham said all three reasons contributed to the decision to stop payment of Campbell's and Villa's legal fees, which are already more than $13,000. He said the city's policies against sexual harassment and discrimination help support their decision.
"While it might be magnanimous on our part to pay those bills, it's no longer in our interest to continue to pay those costs," City Manager Kevin Murphy said, adding that the city will not pay punitive damages awarded in the lawsuit.
"We have an obligation, certainly, to our employees," Murphy said. "But we have a larger obligation to the people who pay our bills, and that's the taxpayers."
The city also is named as a defendant in the suit filed Sept. 24 against Campbell and Villa, but has retained separate counsel and plans to mount a distinct case. Bruce Praet, the attorney the city hired to defend the two men, said he will stick with the case regardless of who finances it.
Los Angeles attorney Jeff Epstein, who represents Campbell and Villa in separate legal actions, called the city's refusal to fund the defense an "incredibly stupid decision."
Praet and Epstein said the city is sending a message to other Police Department employees, who are often subject to legal action for alleged excessive force.
Murphy on Thursday reassured acting Chief Jim Jacobs and Detective Tom Tolman, president of the local police association, that employees will still be supported in lawsuits stemming from their employment.
"We would only have cause for concern if we did the same things those two guys did, acted inappropriately . . . and then we wouldn't deserve (a defense)," Tolman said.