Hemet taxpayer tab for Webb defense and settlement approaches $641,000

Family receives $150,000 settlement from City of Hemet

Photo by Rusty Strait/The Valley Chronicle
Hemet Deputy Chief of Police Charles “Rob” Webb waits in the hall of the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta to testify in the wrongful death lawsuit of Anthony Norman Aug. 9.

■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

Witnesses began testimony in the Anthony Norman wrongful death trial on Monday, Aug. 7 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. Deputy Police Chief Charles “Rob” Webb III testified Wednesday afternoon. However, the City of Hemet’s involvement has ceased, and it ended up costing Hemet taxpayers approximately $641,000.
As previously reported, Norman, a 21-year-old man with the mentality of an 11-year-old, was beaten and smothered on Christmas Eve in 2012 on a residential street in Murrieta, California. The man who had young Norman on the ground was Michael Darrragh. Webb, who is a neighbor of Darragh’s, came out of his house barefoot and in his pajama bottoms, after having been awakened by Darragh’s wife, who asked Webb to assist her husband in the tussle, which he did. Norman had allegedly been knocking on doors up and down the street prior to the confrontation with Darragh. According to the coroner’s report, Norman died of a heart attack after the altercation while in police custody.
Both Darragh and Webb were sued in civil court, accused of causing the wrongful death of Norman. The city of Hemet was never mentioned in the case. However, almost four years later, the city injected themselves into the suit “to defend Webb,” although he already had an attorney from his insurance company to represent him. The city of Hemet states that it was obligated under Government Code Section 995 to provide Webb a defense.
While Government Code Section 995 “requires a public agency to provide for the defense of any employee in a civil action brought against the employee in his or her official capacity or individual capacity if requested by the employee.” The Valley Chronicle disputes that Section 995 applies because Webb already had adequate legal representation through the Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA). The Valley Chronicle also disputes that Webb’s involvement was an extension of his official capacity.
Sometime after a trial date was set, the city of Hemet and AAA negotiated a joint settlement with the plaintiffs in the amount of $450,000. AAA paid $300,000 and the city of Hemet paid $150,000.
The settlement agreement between the city of Hemet and the Norman family shows a settlement on behalf of “the Webb Defendants.” Why the word “defendants” was inserted in the agreement is unexplained since the city was never a party to the case. In fact, the settlement agreement itself states the city was not a party to this action: “This Settlement Agreement and General Release (agreement) is made on or about March 2, 2017, by and between Plaintiffs Joseph Norman (by and through his Guardian Ad Litem, Gerald Norman, Sr.) and Brianna Norman (collectively referred to as ‘Plaintiffs’), on the one hand, and Defendant Charles R. (‘Rob’) Webb III and Non-Party City of Hemet (collectively referred to as ‘the Webb Defendants’).”

Costs of settlement
According to the settlement agreement, “the city of Hemet shall issue the following settlement checks, which will, upon clearing, satisfy its obligations under paragraph 1(b):
a. $75,000 by check made payable to “Brianna Norman and her attorneys Messina & Hankin LLP.”
b. $56,250 by check made payable to “Joseph Norman, via his guardian ad litem, Gerald Norman, Sr.,” to be placed in a blocked account, as Ordered by the Superior Court of California upon approval of the Minor’s Compromise in this matter.
c. $18,750 by check made Payable to Messina & Hankin LLP,” as Ordered by the Superior Court upon approval of this Minor’s Compromise in this matter.”

Dismissal of the civil action with prejudice
Additionally, the Settlement Agreements states that the civil action regarding the Webb Defendants will be dismissed, but everyone must pay for their own attorneys.
“Concurrent with the execution of this Agreement and before the payment to Plaintiffs by the Webb Defendants referred to above, Plaintiffs shall execute and furnish to Defendants’ attorneys a duly executed Request for Dismissal with prejudice of all claims against Defendant Webb. The Parties shall bear their own costs and attorney’s fees incurred in the Civil Action. The Request for Dismissal shall not be filed with the Superior Court until payment by these settling Defendants of all settlement funds described herein to Plaintiffs.”
There are pages and pages of the usual legal gobbledygook, but essentially this is the meat of the settlement agreement.
Now, this $150,000 settlement is in addition to approximately $491,000 paid by the city of Hemet for depositions, court filings and legal fees to Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP, the home law firm of Hemet’s contracted City Attorney Eric Vail. Vail is a partner in this firm.
Because these costs were paid by Hemet taxpayers, The Valley Chronicle believes the Hemet taxpayers should be the ultimate judge as to whether this money was wisely or unwisely spent. Just sayin’.

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