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City of San Diego to appeal $3.9 million verdict in Dell’Anno wrongful termination lawsuit

The San Diego City Council voted at its meeting Tuesday to appeal a $3.9 million verdict in a wrongful termination lawsuit by a former assistant city attorney.

In a 5-4 vote during closed session Tuesday, councilmembers Joe LaCava (D-4), Jennifer Campbell (D-2), Stephen Whitburn (D-3), Marni von Wilpert (D-5) and Raul Campillo (D-7) voted in favor of appealing the verdict to the state Courts of Appeal, Assistant City Attorney Leslie Fitzgerald reported.

Dell’Anno was fired in 2015 for allegedly mishandling scores of domestic-violence cases. The mid-career prosecutor claimed in a 2017 lawsuit that then-City Attorney Jan Goldsmith actually fired her for refusing to proceed with cases she perceived as politically motivated. The jury ultimately agreed with Dell’Anno and awarded her about $3.9 million in damages.

Early this month, a San Diego Superior Court judge who oversaw lawsuit denied the city’s request to overturn the verdict or grant a new trial. The city had argued that evidence in the lawsuit was wrongly kept from the jury and the verdict was excessive. The judge rejected all of the city’s arguments.

Josh Gruenberg, an attorney representing Dell’Anno, said he and his client were disappointed with the city’s decision to appeal, which he said would delay needed money reaching Dell’Anno and is unlikely to benefit taxpayers.

“We believe that we have a very experienced and patient judge, a well-respected judge, who made the right decisions during trial and we are not worried about the Appellate Court disturbing the verdict,” Gruenberg said. “Sadly, it’s the taxpayers who will lose.”

A spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office did not answer questions, except to say the city had made its argument in court papers earlier this month.

The city’s liability is growing every day, as interest on the judgement accrues from the day it was awarded until the day it is paid.

In addition to the $3.9 million in damages awarded to Dell’Anno, the city may have to pay Dell’Anno’s legal fees and costs, which could easily climb to hundreds of thousands of dollars.



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