County To Pay $511,000 in Legal Fees, Court Costs
A state delegate criticizes the county for expenses of a lawsuit filed by a William Blake, a Baltimore County Police officer, that amount to more than $750,000.
UPDATED (5:46 p.m.)—Baltimore County now knows the price tag for losing a lawsuit involving a police detective who was ordered to undergo unlawful medical examinations and tests.
U.S. District Court Judge Benson Everett Legg ordered the county to pay $494,243.00 attorney fees and $17,716.00 court costs in the case of William Blake.
"The significant fee award reflects the serious nature of the case as well as the diligence of counsel," Legg wrote in his decision. "While the total cost to the County is high, there is a silver lining, however. This case may ultimately avoid future litigation by providing guidance with respect to fitness-for-duty examinations."
The county has lost a number of similar cases in the last two years.
Most recently, the county entered into a consent decree with 10 police and fire department employees who had similar complaints about being subjected to unlawful medical examinations and tests. The court-ordered resolution of those cases cost the county about $500,000.
The settlement with the Department of Justice included additional oversight by the federal agency.
Three other employees who were not involved in the settlement have since filed suit for similar reasons.
Blake sued after he was ordered to undergo medical tests after he testified on behalf of another officer who had a seizure.
Blake said he had also suffered from a single seizure in 1996. The county required Blake to undergo medical exams to establish his fitness for duty following his testimony on behalf of the other officer.
Blake lost no wages in his original lawsuit. A jury awarded him damages for emotional distress and the county appealed.
In 2010, a federal jury awarded Blake $225,000 plus interest.
The county could appeal Legg's ruling on the attorney's and court fees.
The decision met the approval of Cole Weston, president of the union that represents the county's active police officers.
"This should hopefully put a stop to this practice and provide a road map to the county for preventing other such cases," said Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4.
The county appealed the 2010 jury decision and ultimately lost. Weston pointed out that the failed appeal cost the county additional legal fees—estimated to be about $135,000.
Weston said another suit the county lost on subsidies for healthcare costs will cost the county between $600,000 and $700,000.
"Each individual taxpayer will need to make a decision if these are prudent decisions being made by the administration," Weston said.
One state delegate criticized the county for the costs of the failed lawsuits.
"This is frivolous stuff they're bringing forward," said Del. John Cluster, a Parkville Republican.
Cluster is also a retired police officer and member of the county's tactical unit.
"The Blake case is a perfect example of how these lawsuits are costing the county more money," said Cluster. "How much money is this going to continue to cost the county?"