Fajitagate Victory No Knockout

About that civil jury verdict yesterday, saying that two of the three off-duty cops in the notorious fajitagate fight of 2002 should have to pay damages worth a combined $46,000: A couple of the defense attorneys in the case pointed out to callaw.com today that, as far as their clients were concerned, it could have been worse.

“From our standpoint, the verdict was priceless,” said Issa Michael, whose client, David Lee, was the only one of the trio of officers not found liable for anything by the jury.

“I saw in the Chronicle this morning how it appears to be portrayed as kind of a defeat. … In fact, we considered the verdict pretty much a vindication of our beliefs,” said defendant Matthew Tonsing’s attorney, Brian Seibel, of Seibel, Finta & Edwards in Walnut Creek. He claims the plaintiffs were asking for much more to settle the case before trial.

And both he and Michael, a San Francisco solo, pointed out that the jury verdict specifically rejected a civil rights claim against all three defendants, which could have allowed plaintiffs Adam Snyder and Jade Santoro to seek attorney’s fees, civil penalties and even more punitive damages than they already got.

As for the civil rights thing, Gordon Kaupp, a lawyer for Santoro, said the judge presiding over the trial had not let the plaintiffs broach the strongest theory for their civil rights argument, a particular statute that refers to a right to be protected from bodily harm. That left them to rest their civil rights claim solely on an accusation that the defendants had been motivated by their perception of the plaintiffs’ sexual orientation, Kaupp said. The jury found that was not the case with any of the three defendants.

Kaupp also added that his client wanted a jury to find the defendants liable and “wasn’t thinking about settlement.” And, Kaupp added, Santoro felt vindicated by the jury’s finding that Tonsing and co-defendant Alex Fagan Jr. had engaged in the battery against him “with malice or oppression.” Before this, he added, “We have not gotten any kind of official statement that this was wrong.”

Pam Smith



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