From my conversations in Madison I find two trains of thought being discussed in relation to the record $3.35 million settlement over a lawsuit brought by the family of Tony Robinson, a man shot and killed by a Madison police officer.
The first and overriding expression I hear is that the award seemed truly surprising given what the facts involved, and that the family did not take their case to a courtroom for trial. The amount of money paid was stunning for many citizens of this city to consider.
The second point of view I hear repeated again and again is how the legal representatives for the family, following the settlement, have aired their theories of what happened with press type briefings. I am not a lawyer but I know what John Grishman would do about 150 pages into his case. There would be a jury trial hearing about the evils of society. But that is not how the Robinson family has handled their case.
All this makes for a very credible foundation for Madison alderperson Paul Skidmore with his proposal that the council and mayor decide whether to settle future lawsuits against the city or its employees.
I get the fact there is an 800-pound gorilla in the room when this type of topic is broached. Namely the proposal may not find support over concern the city could lose its insurer.
What has created a lot of real heat and angst among the Madison Police Department, and the many who support them in this city, is that settlement between the Robinson family and the city’s insurer was made over the strong objections of the police officer who was involved in this case. For background the city — which had been dismissed as a defendant in the case — was not involved in the settlement and had no ability to influence the court or the parties in the settlement.
And that is the part Skidmore and concerned citizens would like to further examine. In the proposal that will weave its way through the committee corridors at city hall Skidmore’s idea says what has transpired “leaves the plaintiffs free to disparage the city of Madison and its employee without recourse to sworn testimony, cross examination, or the independent judgment of a disinterested judge.”
The summation of what is proposed makes sense to me and I suspect the rank-and-file voters of this city.
Decisions involving lawsuits brought by or against the city are properly the responsibility of its elected officials, not agents of an insurance company, and removing elected officials from decisions in such matters frustrates the accountability citizens expect from them.
I get the fact there are large matters that need to be orchestrated for this proposal to mesh with the needs of an insurer for the city. But I have to believe that there are people of good faith and sound judgment from each side of the matter who will be able to design a workable way forward so that this city need not again be forced to throw one of our professional employees ‘under the bus’ to make a fast settlement.
Skidmore should be applauded for listening to the people of this city. He and I may not talk to the same people. But if he is hearing from his perspective the same thing I hear from my perspective means there is a real message being sent from the people. As such it might be wise for the entire city council to listen to the citizenry, too.