Jury Awards $1.2 Million to abused Newport Beach Cop

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At 10:05 this morning in the lawsuit brought by Newport Beach Police Sgt. Neil Harvey against his department and the city, the clerk entered and said, "We have a verdict." All of the parties were present, including Police Chief John Klein (pictured) and Harvey. The 27-year veteran claimed he was repeatedly blocked for promotion because of false rumors spread among fellow cops that he is gay.

The jury of seven women and five men entered courtroom. Several of them shot glances--neutral ones, it seemed--at Neil Harvey. The forewoman gave the verdict forms to Judge Peter Polos, then the clerk read through 11 questions. On all but one, the jury found for Harvey, concluding that the city had failed to promote him, had retaliated against him for complaining about wrongdoing and had caused substantial harm to his career.

The jury voted unanimously for $1.2 million in damages for Harvey.

After the 25-minute hearing, the jury left quickly--one female juror smiled at and touched Harvey; most of them initially declined to discuss case with reporters. In the hallway outside the courtroom, James McDonald, an attorney for the city, asked one juror, a middle-aged white man wearing a suit coat, for his feedback. The man described the jury as people with a diversity of opinons, who had "open and candid discussions" during deliberations. Ultimately, the juror told McDonald, the case came down to "Kind of the big guys versus the little guys, you know, the good-old-boys' club and an outsider." The man then spotted me taking notes, and said, "Wait, I don't want the press to hear what I'm saying," before walking away with a group of jurors.

Nice attitude buddy.

A smiling Neil Harvey, accompanied by his attorney, John A. Girardi, approached that group and said, "Thank you so much, I really appreciate it." One of them asked Harvey what he would do next. "I'm going back to work tomorrow," the cop replied. There was laughter.

Girardi said he and his co-counsel, Lawrence J. Lennemann, are "pleased and gratified" that jurors "listened to three weeks' of testimony" and determined that their client had been treated unfairly.

"They did an excellent job evaluating the evidence," he said.

When I asked McDonald his opinion of the verdicts, he refused to comment. He was anxious to huddle privately with a few lingering jurors and learn how he'd lost the case.

(Having covered trials for many years, I can report that both sides had superb lawyers, including McDonald.)

A somber Chief Klein had this reaction: "We've got a very professional department. We're well-respected, and we've earned that reputation because of the quality of the people we have in the department. I'm looking forward to putting this behind us, and to focus again on the safety of the community."

He added that the a decision about whether or not to appeal to a higher court was out of his hands, and would ultimately be decided by the Newport Beach City Council.

The legal wrangling isn't over though even if the council decides to accept the verdict and Judge Polos rejects any post-trial motions by the police department to overrule the will of the jury. Because Harvey won the suit, he's entitled to have his legal fees paid for by the department. Polos will decide what amount is proper.

And when will Harvey get his money?

"I just don't know," said Girardi. "But it'll certainly be several months down the road."

--R. Scott Moxley (reporting via phone) / OC Weekly

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