Friday, June 8, 2007
APS Not Settling Lovato Lawsuit
By Colleen Heild
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Investigative Reporter
The breakup between the Albuquerque Public Schools and longtime APS police chief Gil Lovato appears headed for a very nasty resolution in court.
APS officials said this week that Lovato's attorney, Sam Bregman, has said Lovato would forgo legal action over APS' decision not to renew his contract if APS pays him $500,000.
They say they won't pay a penny despite the prospect of some unpleasant days in court.
According to APS attorney Art Melendres, "Sam Bregman has said that, by the time this lawsuit is over, there will be probably no top administrators in APS standing because his goal is to take everyone down."
APS Board President Paula Maes said the district is firm in its position.
"Our board has felt and we have talked about this and we will not settle," she told the Journal on Thursday. "(Lovato's) contract is finished."
Lovato has been on paid leave since January and will keep getting a paycheck until his contract runs out June 30. He is paid $77,597 per year.
Bregman said Thursday he wouldn't discuss "what settlement demands I've made or what resolution demands I've made."
But he sent APS a tort claims notice dated May 15 stating a lawsuit will be filed in part over "defamatory comments by various members of APS administration" about Lovato to the media.
Bregman said Thursday he will add claims of retaliation to the lawsuit.
"My goal is not to take everybody down," Bregman said in an interview with the Journal. "It is to see that the wrongs committed against Gil Lovato are righted."
Bregman said Lovato lost his job after he complained to APS administrators about their hiring of a private investigator to look into criminal allegations against certain APS employees instead of turning the matters over to school police.
Melendres said he and Superintendent Beth Everitt are "rightly concerned about things that Sam Bregman may do.
"I just want to say that this is a whole different lawsuit than APS has probably ever faced with Sam being the lawyer," Melendres said.
Melendres said he expected unfounded allegations to emerge, and Everitt said she thought Lovato kept files on people for his own purposes.
"I think he used them to intimidate people," she said. "And I will not be threatened or intimidated."
Everitt said her background is clean and she has nothing to fear.
Lovato, a retired Albuquerque police captain, has been APS police chief for 17 years.
Everitt announced in April that Lovato's contract would not be renewed after she reviewed an internal audit and personnel investigation that focused on allegations including favoritism, misuse of police property and mishandling of money collected as evidence.
Everitt and Melendres said terminating Lovato outright would have triggered a lengthy and complex "due process" scenario, so not renewing his contract was deemed a better route.
At one point during the three-month internal investigation, Lovato was on the verge of submitting his resignation, Melendres said.
Lovato had a different attorney at the time, "and the expectation was that a resignation would occur," Melendres said.
While APS was compiling information on Lovato's annual and sick leave, that attorney "abruptly" notified APS attorneys that she had been terminated "by voice mail" and the resignation was off.
Melendres said APS hadn't offered to pay Lovato a settlement at that time.
"The only thing we were going to give him was that to which he was entitled as an employee" such as sick leave and accumulated annual leave, he said.
Bregman, who became Lovato's attorney in late February, denied his client had considered resigning.
Meanwhile, Melendres said APS "reached a preliminary agreement" with an attorney representing APS police dispatch supervisor Cynthia West "to testify" if Lovato should sue.
West's name surfaced in the internal APS investigation. through their attorneys, have denied any wrongdoing.
One issue was whether Lovato gave West preferential treatment. She had a police take-home car, an APS police bicycle, received weapons training through APS and, until recently, had an APS security camera outside her home.
Melendres said West has notified APS she may make a claim against Lovato "for sexual harassment, retaliation, for threatening her with her job, many, many, things ... ," Melendres said.
Under a the agreement, Melendres said West "would not sue the Albuquerque Public Schools, but she would testify (if APS were sued by Lovato)."
He also said he was concerned about possible attempts by Lovato to intimidate West.
Melendres said in the meantime, while Everitt considers possible reforms of the police agency, West "will remain there and she would be given a job for an additional one year somewhere within APS."
West is a 20-year APS employee.
West's attorney, Kari Morrissey, said Thursday that another lawyer in Melendres' office was working on the matter and called Melendres' statements inaccurate.
She declined further comment.
Bregman said, "We welcome any testimony from Cynthia West. The facts are as they are, and nothing that Gil Lovato did in his professional life was any justification for the termination."
Bregman said allegations that Lovato sexually harassed or has tried to intimidate West are untrue.
Bregman on Thursday said recent interviews have delayed the filing of the lawsuit.
He said he has learned APS administrators have been using private investigator Bob Casey of Robert Caswell Investigations to look into allegations that Lovato says should have been handled by his agency because they were criminal in nature.
Casey, reached Thursday, said his firm does personnel investigations for the city of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and certain state agencies and has conducted more than 300 internal personnel investigations for APS.
He said if a personnel investigation turns up evidence of criminal wrongdoing, his agency refers the case to APS school police.
Casey said on at least one occasion, Lovato himself called the Caswell firm for help in tracking the car of an APS employee.