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Jonathan Kraut: Government workers duck responsibility

Posted: June 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.

We are used to hearing about large awards being presented to those harmed, abused or injured by school teachers, police, firefighters, and other government employees.

In December 2012, a jury awarded $23 million to a boy who was allegedly molested by his fifth-grade teacher.

Last year the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to pay $27 million as partial settlement regarding the misconduct of a Miramonte Elementary School teacher. It is believed that the Miramonte scandal may cost LAUSD as much as another $100 million in the end.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the county of Los Angeles, which is separate from the LAUSD, paid $115 million in 2012 and $89 million in 2013 to settle lawsuits.

About half of these amounts relate to alleged Men’s Central Jail deputies misconduct, including allegations of false imprisonment, assault under the color of authority and wrongful death.

So far, the city of Santa Clarita has recently avoided paying huge sums for city employee misconduct. But have you ever wondered who actually pays for these awards?

Anyone who rents, owns, or pays sales tax is a taxpayer. Anyone spending money is a taxpayer. Taxpayers foot the bill.

The answer is that you pay, I pay, we all pay.

We fund the investigations, prosecution costs, hearings, incarceration and the payment of fines and awards.
California has in place “shield laws” that designate government employees and first-responders as immune from many forms of civil liability.

It is rare that a government employee, teacher, or other official will ever pay a penny of the awards levied as a result of their actions.

While juries may assign a certain percentage of an award as the responsibility of a government agency for lacking oversight and supervision, the payment of this money comes out of the general fund.

Taxpayers are asked to increase tax contributions to make up for any spending deficits that result.

We hire the government to investigate, try, prosecute, and then levy fines against itself.

A few sacrificial employees get reassigned or retire early. Employees contributing to the damaging events often still keep their juicy pensions.

We are told justice was served. Then we fund payment of the fines and the awards.
Something has to change.

The right to sue is not the problem: we need a change regarding who pays these fines.

I would like to see enacted changes in the state Constitution to hold government employees and their supervisors personally liable and wholly responsible for any damage that occurs directly or indirectly from their actions.

This would relieve the deep pockets of government from the burden of general responsibility.

For example, let’s say two police officers were instructed to use deadly force on any suspect they approach who reaches for his or her waistband, i.e., the belt area.

Right now it appears to be policy to kill someone if he or she puts a hand on a cellphone while police are approaching.

Of course, a wrongful death case would ensue and millions would be paid for shooting an unarmed suspect. But since it was “policy,” everyone goes back to work and no policy changes occur.

Under the law as written, no one involved is culpable. The officers are trained to shoot people who touch their belt areas, those who instructed and drafted this crazy approach are free and clear of liability, and those we pay to supervise and manage our officers happily retire in a few years anyway.

I wish to hold everyone along the chain of command responsible for the misconduct created, just as any civil case involving non-government personnel would.

This change would hold accountable our officials who are receiving taxpayer-funded income and benefits for failing to do what we are paying them to do.

The burden of misconduct would be shifted from me and you to the people involved.

Some may argue that first-responders and government employees would quit rather than being held accountable for their actions.

I say let them quit: no one who is sincere, dedicated and accountable would choose to leave the opportunity to serve the public if this change I propose goes into effect.

Jonathan Kraut is a local private investigator and serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV and SCV Interfaith Council.



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