The city of Roseburg has moved to overturn a verdict in favor of an ex-police sergeant by arguing the $750,000 judgment against the city was excessive and that the judge erred by allowing jurors to hear evidence flattering to the former officer.
A U.S. District Court jury in Eugene last month sided with Gregrey Fetsch, a highly decorated officer who was forced to resign in 2010 after an internal investigation triggered by rumors he was having an extramarital affair.
Jurors found the city violated Fetsch’s constitutional rights by releasing information about his ouster to The News-Review before he had a chance to clear himself at a hearing.
In motions filed Thursday, the city moved for a new trial and to reduce the jury award to $100,000. The motions are not an appeal, but set the stage for one to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Fetsch could be awarded payment for out-of-pocket court costs, but he won’t receive the $750,000 judgment from the city’s insurance company until the completion of the appellate process, which could take years.
“Our opinion is that this verdict was excessive,” the city’s attorney, Jens Schmidt of Eugene, said in an interview Monday.
In arguing for a new trial, the city claims Judge Thomas Coffin should have barred jurors from hearing that a state disciplinary board commended Fetsch’s “impeccable honesty” during the investigation.
The city argues that introducing the Department of Public Safety and Standards Training’s judgment made it difficult for jurors to make up their own minds about whether Fetsch had been honest.
“Certainly plaintiff’s attorneys knew of the impact of the evidence, seizing every opportunity to showcase it,” according to the city’s motion for a new trial.
The city also claims Coffin’s instructions to jurors were incomplete because they weren’t told that Fetsch had to prove he suffered tangible harm.
Fetsch’s attorney, Cindy Danforth, said she plans to respond to the city’s motion by April 18. The city would then have until May 2 to respond to her motion.
Fetsch has worked for DynCorp, a defense contractor, in Afghanistan, since August 2011. He was with Roseburg police for 18 years and claimed in court filings that he had been unable to find another law enforcement job in Oregon after being forced from the department.
Danforth said her client will keep fighting.
“I’m confident he will continue to assert his legal rights,” she said.
Fetsch sued for $1.5 million in 2011.
Jurors returned a verdict after deliberating for three hours at the conclusion of a three-day trial.
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.