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Council votes nearly $4 million for lawsuit settlements

Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Tribune Review Publishing Company
BYLINE: Adam Brandolph

Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh City Council yesterday approved spending nearly $4 million to settle civil lawsuits at its last meeting of the year.

The largest settlement was $3.8 million for a Homewood man wrongfully imprisoned for nearly 19 years after being convicted in 1986 of rape. Thomas Doswell, 50, was released from prison in 2005 after being exonerated by DNA evidence.

Downtown attorney James E. DePasquale, who represented Doswell in his criminal case appeal, said no amount of money could replace the years Doswell spent "caged up like an animal."

"The American justice system isn't magical, so the only imperfect way to give him back those years is through money damages," DePasquale said. "It's a lot of money, but I wouldn't want to trade places with him."

The city's payout will include payments totaling $1.26 million a year to Doswell, his attorney and Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston in 2010, 2011 and 2012, according to city documents. Doswell's civil attorney, Peter J. Neufeld of the New York law firm Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, did not return calls seeking comment.

U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose dismissed part of Doswell's 2007 civil lawsuit against the city and police in June, but refused to dismiss violations of Doswell's rights to due process and against cruel and unusual punishment.

"(These payments) will take care of him for the rest of his life," DePasquale said.

Attorneys for the city declined to comment.

Council also approved settlements for two former city employees.

It agreed to a $40,000 settlement with John Moon, a former assistant chief of the city's Emergency Medical Services. Moon, who is black, retired in October as part of the settlement of a case in which he alleged he was passed over for a 2005 promotion to deputy chief because of racial discrimination. Moon's attorney, Paul G. Kay, did not return calls seeking comment.

Council approved a nearly $10,000 settlement with Mercedes C. Taylor, a retired police officer, for pension, longevity and benefits, after a dispute over the number of years she worked for the city. Taylor's attorney, Jon Pushinsky, said she was employed by the city for 24 years up until her retirement in 2003, but only received retirement benefits for 23 years of employment.

"It's important to keep the city honest," Pushinsky said.

Legal settlements are paid out of the city's operating budget. It budgeted $1.74 million for legal judgments for 2010, the same as 2009.
The city spent $1.55 million on settlements in 2008.

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