Rider Would Trade Millions for Cop’s Salary?

Assuming you’d been wrongfully terminated, which would you want a shot at first: reinstatement or a huge pile of cash? That’s the proposition Alameda County Judge Winifred Smith has issued to two-time Oakland Riders defendant Matthew Hornung.

In a tentative ruling late last week, Smith granted a motion to compel arbitration for Hornung and co-defendants Clarence Mabanag and Jude Siapno, who years ago were accused of widespread police misconduct and fired. Smith gave Hornung’s attorney, Edward Fishman, and attorneys for the city of Oakland until mid-May to help her decide whether to stay the arbitration until the resolution of a civil rights suit Hornung filed Apr. 3 in federal court.

Alleging racketeering, illegal search and seizure and slander, among other charges, Hornung’s civil rights suit seeks damages that could clear $45 million.

But it appears that Hornung first wants a crack at once again earning a policeman’s paycheck.

“Mr. Hornung’s exclusive remedy for reinstatement is arbitration,” Fishman told the judge at an Apr. 28 hearing, rejecting a suggestion by opposing counsel Arthur Hartinger that he could also seek a return to work before a federal judge.

Some may wonder why anyone would want a return to the daily grind if they’re entitled to damages that would more than exceed an entire lifetime’s earnings.

Oakland attorney John Burris, for one, said it’s because Hornung’s civil rights suit is a loser. “I don’t think he has a ghost of a chance” in federal court, said Burris, who won a civil settlement in 2003 stemming from the Riders’ conduct.

As Oakland attorneys continue to push the ongoing Riders litigation toward federal court — like they’ve done many times before — it stands to reason they may be thinking the same thing as Burris.

“In general, the city respects the arbitration process,” said deputy city attorney Vicki Laden. But “the city’s position has always been that [federal court is] the appropriate forum for resolving these issues.”

—Matthew Hirsch

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