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Monday, June 23, 2014

City, Feds, Police Union Reach New Compromise on Police Reform—if Judge Goes For It

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 10:58 AM

Attorneys for the US Department of Justice, the city, and the Portland Police Association have devised another possible end-run around a federal judge's request for annual updates on a wide-ranging package of police reforms, according to court documents filed Friday afternoon—potentially lifting the last major obstacle in front of a deal expected to have been approved months ago.

That is, if US District Court Judge Michael Simon decides next month he can live with what the attorneys have written in a proposed joint motion (pdf) asking Simon for their blessing.

Simon, in a hearing early this spring, had threatened to throw out the negotiated reforms and hold a trial if attorneys from the city, Justice Department, and police union—joined by the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform—didn't agree to show up in his courtroom once a year for updates. He also wanted the parties to agree stay the lawsuit the feds filed against the city, giving him greater authority.

The feds signaled they could probably live with that, after suggesting Simon instead dismiss the case with conditions. But the city and the PPA both balked. And since then, the parties have spent months trying to grapple with the judge's request.

In a shift, the latest proposal (pdf) from those negotiations would allow annual updates, and in Simon's courtroom. But those updates would come only from the independent monitor hired by the city to oversee the reform process, the person otherwise known as the "Compliance Officer/Community Liaison."

Simon had wanted to bring in all the parties for direct questioning (and only questioning), and this new compromise would pointedly and conspicuously spare the city and the PPA that level of judicial scrutiny. (That would make the COCL job even more important—relevant in light of the recruitment issues the Mercury has exclusively been reporting on.)

Other than the COCL’s presentation and any supporting documents the COCL chooses to provide, no witnesses, proffers of evidence, briefs, written submissions, or testimony from the Parties, Enhanced Amicus, individuals, or organizations are permitted at the report appearance;

This is different from an early idea, first reported by the Oregonian, that would have placed annual update hearings before the Portland City Council and sent transcripts from the hearings to Simon for off-line review. That suggestion was swiftly rejected by Simon.

The AMA, which Simon has allowed in the case as a "friend of the court," isn't much a fan of either idea. The AMA's counsel, J. Ashlee Albies, filed a brief (pdf) Friday restating the AMA's belief that Simon has the power to compel the parties to appear in his courtroom once a year, whether they agree to that condition or not.

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Simon may very well agree with the AMA. But if he proceeds on that assumption, it's possible either the city or the PPA could file an appeal and further delay a process that began playing out nearly two years ago, in September 2012. Simon must weigh that threat, and that delay, against his concerns about procedure and fairness. It's clear he's doing that.

According to court papers, he's asked the city and union—in documents due tomorrow—to lay out their legal thoughts about their right to appeal.

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