U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon said Friday he will allow public testimony at a “fairness hearing” the court will hold next year on the negotiated settlement that the city of Portland reached with federal justice officials on police reforms.
Simon described his objective in holding such a hearing as three-fold: to help him determine whether or not the settlement agreement is “fair, adequate and reasonable”; to keep the process transparent and “give everyone a full and fair opportunity to be heard.” He cautioned that it won’t resemble a trial.
Simon said any person or group who wants to more formally intervene in the case must submit a motion to the court by Jan. 8.
But any citizen who wishes to participate in the fairness hearing should submit written comments to the federal court clerk by Jan. 22, sharing their ideas on how to conduct the hearing.
Simon said he’s open to holding the hearing at night or during the weekend to better accommodate the public. A date was not set.
Members of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, National Lawyers Guild and Portland Copwatch, who were present at the court’s first hearing on the negotiated federal settlement Friday and allowed to address the court, applauded the judge’s approach.
Attorney Michael Rose, on behalf of the Albina Ministerial Alliance’s Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, told the judge that his procedure for reviewing the matter was a “very reasonable and sane way of getting through this morass.”
Rose also told the court that the alliance’s coalition will be submitting a motion to formally intervene in the case, as the Portland police union has done.
Friday was the first court scheduling hearing since the federal government on Monday formally filed a lawsuit against the City of Portland in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit, alleging excessive force by police, was filed along with a 76-page negotiated settlement agreement that calls for a multitude of Portland police reforms.
The court filings stem from the U.S. Department of Justice’s nearly 15-month investigation into use of force by Portland police. The inquiry found police engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force against people suffering from or perceived to have a mental illness.
The settlement, approved by the City Council on Nov. 14, calls for widespread changes to Portland police policies on use of force, Tasers, training, supervision and oversight.
On Tuesday, the Portland Police Association filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in the case, alongside the city. The union argues that the negotiated changes to Portland police policies and procedures undermine the collective bargaining rights of union members.
The union cited a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case that allowed the Los Angeles Police Protective League to intervene in a consent decree before the federal court on Los Angeles police reforms in 2002.
“I don’t know whether those factors will or will not apply in this case,” Simon told attorneys Friday.
Anil Karia, the union attorney, told the judge he was concerned that the city and Portland Police Bureau might be moving ahead with training on revised use of force and Taser policies. Karia inquired if he should seek a “stay” on the agreement to halt the police bureau from implementing changes until the court rules on the settlement.
“The PPA is concerned about ongoing implementation of aspects of the agreement,” Karia told the judge.
If the bureau were to start training on any revised force policies, Karia argued that “that mere act violates collective bargaining.”
Portland Copwatch’s Dan Handelman also noted in court that the city plans next month to put out a request to hire a compliance officer who would oversee the reforms.
“We’re letting the proverbial cart get before the horse,” Karia said.
The judge replied that he’s taken no action. He noted that parties to a private settlement could still move forward with parts of it, without the blessing of a court.
If a motion for a stay was to be filed, the judge said he’d schedule an expedited hearing to rule on it.
City Attorney James Van Dyke acknowledged that the city and police bureau may want to move ahead with terms of the agreement, such as training, before its formally adopted.
“I don’t expect the settlement agreement to be entered until after a fairness hearing,” Van Dyke told the court. “Nevertheless we have some desire to collectively bargain with our union in regard to some of the changes in our settlement agreement.”
Federal prosecutors have until Jan. 21 to submit their response to the police union’s motion to intervene in the case.
Simon set the next court hearing in the case for Feb. 19 at 9 a.m. to rule on the pending motions.
Simon likened his role in this case to the role of the court in deciding whether to accept a settlement in a class-action case.
“It’s essentially a ratification of a compromise,” Simon said.
Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall, also present in court, and Billy Williams, assistant U.S. Attorney, said the judge’s move to include public comment is consistent with how the nearly 15-month investigation was handled.
“We applaud the court’s direction,” Marshall said.