Duxbury Town Meeting voters have approved paying former police chief Mark DeLuca $295,000 to settle his lawsuit against the town, fearing if the case dragged on in court and the town lost, it would be on the hook for more money.
Town officials and legal counsel urged about 200 town voters who took up the matter at the March 9 Special Town Meeting to settle the lawsuit. DeLuca had filed the suit in February 2012 in US District Court in Boston, two years after it reneged on a proposed $240,000 settlement.
Selectmen chairman Ted Flynn told residents that approving the $295,000 deal between DeLuca and the town, reached last May, was appropriate.
“The agreement was a valid contract. There was no recision date put into the agreement. Absent the recision date, no signatures were necessary. This contract has to be honored,” Flynn said.
The town will pay DeLuca $260,000 from free cash, and the town’s insurance company will pay another $35,000, insurance attorney Leonard H. Kesten said.
Town counsel Arthur Kreiger said the town “has sufficient exposure . . . that I’m recommending the settlement,” noting that if the case dragged on in court and the town lost, it would have to pay DeLuca the state-mandated 12 percent per year interest on the $240,000 dating from the original settlement date of October 2009, plus attorney fees, lose the insurance company’s $35,000, and need officials to spend time defending the suit. “It would be a continual distraction to town officials who are involved” if the suit went on, he said. “For all those reasons, I am well satisfied this is in the town’s best interests.”
DeLuca’s lawsuit against the town, former town manager Richard MacDonald, and former selectmen chairwoman Elizabeth Sullivan, asserts breach of contract and violation of his First Amendment rights.
That case is expected to be withdrawn as part of the settlement. A brief filed in the case last December says that DeLuca and the town reached a settlement to drop the case pending approval of the settlement by Town Meeting voters.
A message left with DeLuca’s attorney of record on the lawsuit, Gregory Aceto of Boston, was not returned.
In the summer of 2009, MacDonald, then the town manager, determined he didn’t want to renew DeLuca’s contract. On Oct. 5, 2009, selectmen met with DeLuca and negotiated an offer of $240,000 to relinquish his contract as police chief, which DeLuca accepted.
On Oct. 23, selectmen rescinded the offer after DeLuca didn’t sign it in a timely manner, Flynn said. “As far as I’m aware, and I wasn’t on the board . . . it was rescinded because he did not sign the agreement. But the fact of the matter is, because there was no recision date in the agreement date itself, it didn’t say you have five days to sign this, there was no signature necessary,” he said.
DeLuca asserts in his lawsuit that Duxbury retaliated against him for trying to form a police labor union, and violated his First Amendment rights. “Apparently stemming from their strong anti-union sentiment and personal animosity toward [DeLuca] . . . officials of the Town maliciously interfered with [DeLuca’s] advantageous and contractual business relations with the Town,” it says.
His contract expired Nov. 20, 2009. DeLuca, a Whitman resident, had spent 10 years as Duxbury’s police chief and before that had been a police officer in Miami before joining the Boston police force, where in 1995 he was awarded that department’s Medal of Honor. He’s also a onetime lightweight Golden Gloves boxing champ.
When asked by a resident on Saturday why DeLuca couldn’t have served out the remaining weeks of his contract and then been let go, Kesten, the insurance lawyer, said town leaders “wanted him to stop working immediately, as opposed to six or seven weeks.” MacDonald and Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment about why DeLuca was let go.
DeLuca’s troubles didn’t end in Duxbury. Cohasset hired him as police chief in January 2010, but he was put on paid administrative leave in May 2012 after Cohasset’s police union filed 11 grievances against him, including charges he forged documents and physically abused an officer. DeLuca denied the accusations. The town decided not to renew his contract when it expired on Jan. 24.
In Duxbury, residents discussed the settlement for about 20 minutes before verbally voting nearly unanimously to approve it.
“It clearly is in the best interest of the town to settle the contract. With everything I have heard, this town had a binding agreement with Mr. DeLuca to pay him 240,000 bucks,” said resident James Lampert. “There’s nothing we can do. The fact of the matter is that he had an agreement that was made by the selectmen.”
Resident Will Zachmann said the town had no choice but to pay DeLuca the settlement as selectmen created a liability for the town by offering a settlement, then taking it back.
“Although it sort of sticks in one’s craw to pay somebody a bunch of money not to be our police chief, that appears to have been the result of not very wise handling of the situation that created some pretty serious liabilities for the town, and we probably are in this case best off just going ahead and paying the money, unfortunately,” Zachmann said.