“You’ve protected the town in a reasonable, prudent way, albiet one that is
still difficult to accept,” town attorney Bob Welsh told the Burns Harbor
Town Council last night.
Members appropriated $44,000 in unspent 2011 funds to pay for a negotiated
settlement that will end a five-year dispute over town marshal Jerry Price’s
arrest of a suspected intoxicated driver who turned out to be having a
No one commented Wednesday other than seeking clarification during a
required public hearing on the appropriation.
The money comes from four separate funds in the Police Department budget,
three of them related to insurance. The $44,000 will be appropriated to the
Town Council legal services line item for payment on behalf of Frank
McAllister of Portage for attorney fees tied to his $1 million civil-rights
claim alleging excessive force by Price resulting in McAllister’s fractured
Two months ago a federal jury awarded McAllister $2,000 but no punitive
damages. Welsh said how the hip was injured wasn’t proven.
Nevertheless, the award opened the door, Welsh explained, for McAllister to
seek reimbursement for his legal fees up to $250,000. He sought $62,500 and
both parties agreed on $44,000. The money is not covered under the town’s
"This is understandably a chicken bone that goes down sideways,” Welsh told
the council. “It is what it is.”
With the $44,000 payment McAllister agrees to drop any plans to appeal the
jury award and to release the town from all claims, known and unknown, now
and in the future. Since the final documents won’t be available for
signature until after Jan. 1, the outgoing Town Council voted to authorize
the president of the incoming 2012 council to sign the paperwork.
According to current councilman Mike Perrine, “The $44,000 payment to the
plaintiff in no way reflects on the validity of the complaint against Chief
Price.” Perrine noted that allowing reimbursement for legal fees, even if
the jury award is minuscule, makes it easier for lawyers to get paid for
filing lawsuits of little or no merit.
“Ditto,” responded council member Cliff Fleming, a lawyer, who is retiring
from the board.
Welsh agreed it is a disturbing trend that courts are allowing attorney fees
that in no way track the nominal amount of an award.
Council member Jim McGee, who like Perrine was re-elected to a new four-year
term and takes office Jan. 1, said it’s some consolation that the $44,000
comes from the Police Department budget alone. Retiring council member Toni
Biancardi joined the others in voting for the appropriation that seals the
Retiring council member Louis Bain was absent.
Taking office Jan. 1 with Perrine and McGee are Jeff Freeze, Gregory Miller
and Gene Weibl. The new Town Council meets at 2 p.m. that day for a
swearing-in and reorganization but no actual business. Clerk-treasurer Jane
Jordan begins a new term as well.