Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

Baker City’s insurance company will pay former local journalist Brian Addison $155,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed against the city and its former police chief in 2015.

The settlement was finalized Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Pendleton. The lawsuit, which had been scheduled to go to trial in August, was dismissed with prejudice, which means the matter cannot be brought before the court again.

The city and Addison will be responsible for their own costs and attorney fees, the stipulated agreement states.

In signing the agreement, City Manager Fred Warner Jr., former police chief Wyn Lohner and Addison agreed to release all parties from any further liability in the matter.

Addison did not reply to a request for a comment in time for this story.

Addison, who formerly worked as a reporter for The Record-Courier newspaper, alleged in the lawsuit that the City and Lohner had retaliated against him after he wrote an editorial criticizing the police department. The editorial was published in 2008 in The Record-Courier, a longtime weekly newspaper that has since ceased operation.

Addison’s lawsuit sought monetary damages to be determined at trial on claims that the City and Lohner retaliated against his freedom of speech rights by harassing him for what he had written in the editorial.

Addison stated his belief that the police department’s use of its drug-detecting dog during the Class 1A state basketball tournament at Baker High School was a violation of constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

In his lawsuit, Addison claimed that the City and Lohner interfered with his job opportunities, defamed him and deprived him of due process because of what he had written.

District Court Judge Michael H. Simon ruled in August 2017 that Lohner was not entitled to qualified immunity from Addison’s allegations.

Simon’s decision was upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruling issued in November 2018.

Warner said Thursday that he was surprised by the settlement.

“The insurance company just decided to settle,” he said. “They thought the cost of going to court was more than what they paid out.

“The city — I — really didn’t want to settle, but it was out of our hands,” he said.

Like Warner, Lohner said he would have preferred to have gone to trial.

“I was disappointed that it settled,” Lohner said. “It’s been an interesting process going through it.”

The former police chief noted that a civil lawsuit operates at a different level than what he’s experienced in criminal cases throughout his law enforcement career.

“It doesn’t seem that the truth matters,” he said. “It comes down to a numbers game. It was the insurance company that settled. When the numbers came down to where they figured it was a wash, they decided to settle.”

Lohner believes the truth behind many of Addison’s claims would have come out at trial where the facts would have been laid out clearly for the judge’s consideration.

Rather than a jury trial, it had been determined earlier in the process that the lawsuit would have been heard by Judge Simon.

“It’s always disappointing when the truth doesn’t prevail,” Lohner said. “And that’s how I see it. So many things were thrown out that weren’t the truth. So many pieces were twisted around and I wanted to get them laid out.”

Despite his disappointment in the process, Lohner said he is happy that he and current and retired members of the Baker City Police Department won’t have to spend their time waiting to testify at a trial in Pendleton.

“It’s nice they’re not having to go through it,” he said. “But justice hasn’t been served and it’s very disappointing.”

Addison was represented by Clifford S. Davidson and Kristen Hilton of the Sussman Shank law firm in Portland. Robert E. Franz Jr. of Springfield represented the City through its insurance carrier CIS (Citycounty Insurance Services).

Warner said when he left mediation sessions in April he was certain there would be a trial.

“There had been no movement and they said ‘we’re going to trial,’ ” he said. “I was sure there wasn’t going to be a settlement.”

The two attorneys had agreed to meet within three or four days of the last mediation session to consider one last offer and that’s when the settlement was reached, Warner said.

Warner, who has been city manager since 2016, after Addison filed the lawsuit, said his only involvement in the matter was to read all of the court filings once he started his new job. Mike Kee was city manager when the lawsuit was filed.

Lohner retired in 2018. At the time, he said he and Warner had come to an agreement that they had different “management styles and beliefs.”

As the lawsuit was settled, Warner maintained his statement from two years earlier, that Addison’s allegations against Lohner had no bearing on Lohner’s decision to step down as police chief. Lohner received three months’ salary, totaling about $20,000, as severance pay, Warner said.

For his part of the agreement and release, Addison acknowledged that “this settlement is a compromise of disputed claims and the payment referred to herein is not to be construed as an admission of liability or wrongdoing on the part of any named defendant.”

He also acknowledged that the money paid to him is being paid by CIS Insurance and not by the City or Lohner, and that neither the City nor Lohner are responsible for any payments to him.

Addis on agreed that the $155,000 is the total he will receive for payment of damages and attorneys fees, costs and disbursements.

“I further agree that I am not a prevailing party as a result of this settlement as that term is used in any state or federal statute,” the document signed by Addison stated.