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2 Women in Harassment : Lawsuit Settle Newport Beach: Eight other plaintiffs from the scandal-rocked Police Department are awaiting trial.

January 22, 1994|BOB ELSTON and JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER S and

NEWPORT BEACH — Two of the 10 women who filed sexual harassment lawsuits against the city, its former police chief and a former police captain have settled their cases out of court, city officials announced Friday.

Peri Ropke, a former dispatcher who accused former Police Chief Arb Campbell and Capt. Anthony Villa of raping her after a police party in 1981, will receive $113,000. Ropke, who worked at the department for 12 years but has been on disability leave since she filed suit in October, 1992, has agreed to resign.

Gloria Miller, Villa's former secretary who joined the department in 1990, will receive $62,500 and remain at work.

The $175,500 will be paid by the city, according to a separate agreement reached in June, 1993, between the city, and Campbell and Villa. The city has agreed to pay damages resulting from any of the plaintiffs' lawsuits, including attorney fees and worker's compensation, unless a jury finds Campbell and Villa acted with malice.

City officials, plaintiffs and defendants have agreed not to comment on any aspect of the claims.

According to the official statement released by City Manager Kevin J. Murphy, the three defendants--Campbell, Villa and Sgt. Trent Harris--do not admit liability, but have settled with the two plaintiffs because of the anticipated costs of legal defense. For her part, Ropke indicated in the same statement that her doctor advised her to settle the lawsuit and put the matter behind her.

In an interview Friday evening, Villa said he had nothing to do with the settlement negotiations and is preparing for the pending lawsuit.

"The city has their attorneys and they do their discussion with the plaintiffs' attorneys, and I don't have any say. We're being defended by the city. If that's what the city decides to do, that's what's done," Villa said. "I'm too busy in being involved in further defense of the city to think about it one way or the other. I feel like I just need to keep cooperating with the city in the defense of the city."

Steven Pingell, an attorney who represents all the plaintiffs in the case, refused to comment on the settlement but said none of the eight other plaintiffs are involved in settlement negotiations. "These stand on their own," he said, insisting that the settlements will not impact the pending lawsuit. With Friday's move, the city has now paid about $225,000 to 10 women in connection with a sexual harassment scandal that has plagued the department for 18 months. Eight of those Police Department employees received money in exchange for a promise not to join the lawsuit.

Still, there are eight plaintiffs from the Police Department in the sexual harassment case that is scheduled for trial in October.

*

In September, 1992, four female employees of the Newport Beach Police Department filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court alleging that Villa inappropriately touched them and made lewd, suggestive comments, and that Campbell knowingly tolerated the behavior. Six other women, including Ropke and Miller, later joined the lawsuit, which described the Police Department as "a hotbed of sexual offensive conduct."

The officers have denied all wrongdoing, but the scandal brought a shake-up in command at the Police Department and many months of low morale.

Murphy fired Campbell in December, 1992, and three months later fired Villa. In June, 1993, the city agreed to reinstate the men so that they could immediately retire with benefits in exchange for Campbell's and Villa's dropping their wrongful termination suit against the city. And then last September, Harris, a 15-year veteran of the department, was named as a co-defendant in the suit. Bino Hernandez, an investigator who helped the women bring the lawsuit, alleged at that time that Harris "abused his authority," made sexually suggestive remarks, discriminated against women and pressured female employees to date senior officers.

The department's new police chief has tried to move beyond the scandal. But for the remaining plaintiffs and the defendants, the courtroom drama is still ahead.

Mary Jane Ruetz, a former records supervisor who was among the original four plaintiffs to sue, said she is glad Ropke and Miller were able to settle their cases but that she plans to proceed to court.

"It doesn't affect us," Ruetz said. "They can do what they wish to do, that's up to them. We all have different reasons and different types of things that happened to us--it just depends on what you're willing to do."

Ruetz said it has been about a year since she has received any settlement offers.

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