EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 26, 2013

Methuen to pay Solomon $100K plus legal fees

By Brian Messenger
bmessenger@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — The city will pay police Chief Joseph Solomon $100,001 under an agreement that spells the end of a nearly two-year battle in federal court.

The city also intends to cover Solomon’s legal expenses from his federal lawsuit against the city and former Mayor William Manzi. The chief filed the suit in May 2011, accusing Manzi and the city of “unconstitutional and retaliatory actions” for “illegally” firing him in 2008.

The agreement still requires approval from the City Council, which will meet Thursday night to discuss the matter. Solomon and the city have also yet to agree on the total cost of legal fees the chief is due.

But both sides were claiming victory yesterday after the deal was finalized.

“I think it’s a win,” said Mayor Stephen Zanni, who began settlement negotiations with Solomon in April 2012. “This thing could have gone up to $1 million if it had gone to court. To resolve it was in the best interest of the city.”

“This result leaves the chief feeling vindicated,” said Joseph Sulman, Solomon’s lawyer. “This is an excellent outcome. This takes out the uncertainty and gives some finality and a definite outcome for the chief.”

The agreement resolves all of Solomon’s claims in the suit, “including without limitation any and all claims for compensatory and/or punitive damages, emotional distress, statutory damages, attorneys fees, litigation expenses and costs of this action.”

The first step toward an agreement came March 7 when the city submitted an “offer of judgment” to Solomon. As part of the offer, the city and Manzi “allow judgment to be taken against them” in the amount of $100,001 plus legal costs.

Solomon agreed to the proposal yesterday afternoon. Under the offer of judgment, Sulman said the outcome of the case is no different than if a judge or jury ruled in Solomon’s favor.

“It’s different than a settlement,” said Sulman. “Legally speaking, Chief Solomon is the prevailing party in this case.”

But according to the offer of judgment, the agreement “shall not be constructed as an admission that (the city and Manzi) are liable in this action or that (Solomon) has suffered any damages.”

In his statement, Zanni wrote that the agreement eliminates “a potential liability with unknown costs for the city.” In a June 2012 court disclosure, Solomon had sought damages in excess of $480,000, according to Zanni.

“While the total award remains a high figure, we acted upon the advice of our legal counsel Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP to limit the city’s costs and put an end to this dispute,” wrote Zanni.

Zanni said the city incurred roughly $10,000 in legal bills after hiring the Quincy-based legal firm to work the case earlier this year.

Yesterday’s agreement comes with no contract extension. During settlement negotiations, Zanni said Solomon was seeking an eight-year extension. The chief is currently working without a contract.

Still pending between Solomon and the city is a civil case in which the chief was awarded back pay. The city has appealed the decision.

“I would like to try to settle that case as well,” wrote Zanni in his statement. “I look forward to working with Joe over the next several weeks to see if we can put this behind and move forward in the best interest of the city.”

Solomon wrote in a statement yesterday that the agreement is “in the best interest of the city and my family.”

“I am hopeful that the resolution of this one matter as a judgement will serve to facilitate a quick resolution to all other outstanding issues,” wrote Solomon.

Lawsuits between Solomon and city stem from the chief’s firing in 2008. The City Council also cut his $158,295 salary by $25,610 in 2007. Solomon returned as chief in 2010, after the state Civil Service Commission reduced his punishment to a one-year suspension. The city’s appeal of that decision was rejected by a judge in July.

City councilors indemnified Manzi in Solomon’s federal suit in September 2011, granting him personal legal protection in the suit because he acted “within the scope of his official duties” as mayor when he fired Solomon. Manzi served as mayor from 2006 to 2011.

Zanni said he will speak with City Auditor Thomas Kelly today about how to pay for the agreement.

“I want to pay it off soon so we don’t add up on interest,” said Zanni.

The City Council will hold a special meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the deal.