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Deal saves city cash, family pain

Analyst says Childs settlement avoids media nightmare

By Karen Abbott, Rocky Mountain News
May 26, 2004

A trial is a risky business.

That's why lawyers say a settlement such as Denver's $1.3 million deal with the family of Paul Childs is nearly always a good thing: Both sides avoid the risk of going before a judge and jury.

"From my perspective, there's never a disadvantage to settlement," said Denver lawyer Andrew Cohen, a CBS News legal analyst. "By its very nature, it's giving both sides part or most of what they want."

"It saves time, it saves money, it avoids the uncertainty of trial and it allows everyone to put a horrible incident behind them, as best they can."

Denver lawyer Craig Silverman called the $1.3 million settlement "a lot of money by Denver standards" - especially since the Childs family never filed a lawsuit.

The family did, however, have famed lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. standing up for its interests.

"Don't discount the impact of Johnnie Cochran representing this plaintiff family," Silverman said. "Johnnie Cochran not only brings a lot of skill to the table, he also would have attracted a lot of publicity that would have been bad for the city of Denver."

Cochran met with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper about the Childs case.

"You can't help but think that Mayor Hickenlooper, whose forte is the marketing of Denver and other entities he cares about, might have been concerned about the negative public relations impact of a big public fight against the Childs family and Johnnie Cochran," Silverman said.

"This was both a legal and a business decision for the city of Denver," he said, "and while it is a lot of money without a lawsuit being filed, it also saves the city of Denver a lot of expense in attorneys' fees and experts."

Denver lawyer Dan Recht said a settlement also can be the morally right thing to do - and without making a family fight for it.

"Settlements are often an acknowledgment of the city's concern and an acknowledgment of a desire to compensate someone that's been wronged by an employee of the city," Recht said.

"Frankly, what's wrong with that?"

"It seems to me that maybe there was some fault, and that a compassionate city - if there is such a beast - would desire to compensate a victim of a problem created by the police, whether or not it's intentional," Recht said.

It's true that the Childs family might have collected even more money had it gone to trial and won, the lawyers said.

"Might have," emphasized Recht.

"After all, it was the family who called the police to come and reported that Paul was threatening people with a knife," Silverman said, "so a trial would not have been a pleasant experience for this family."

The fact that Paul Childs was developmentally disabled could have worked in the family's favor or against it in terms of trial winnings, Silverman said.

"Obviously, it engenders a lot of sympathy for Paul Childs and his survivors," he said. "At the same time, the economic impact of the death of a handicapped child is less than that of an accomplished, well-educated breadwinner of a family."

How verdicts go City officials announced they had "devoted hundreds of hours to reviewing this case and analyzing similar cases and verdicts across the country." Two of the cases they reviewed:

Los Angeles, $538,000 verdict

Allan Eberhardt, 23, was shot to death by Los Angeles police in July 1991. Eberhardt was on drugs when he took a dull, 2-foot-long machete on an all-night rampage, eventually ending at an acquaintance's home. As officers ordered him to leave the house, he screamed at them repeatedly to kill him. Eberhardt advanced on one officer, backing him toward a fence, and that officer and two others fired 16 rounds at him, hitting him with eight. Witnesses said Eberhardt was in a stooped position with his arms behind his back when the firing began.

New Mexico $1.75 million verdict

Marvin Archuleta was shot to death March 3, 1994, by a New Mexico State Police officer who was responding to a domestic disturbance call made by Archuleta's wife. Archuleta's family sued, saying the officer used unreasonable force against Archuleta, who was armed with a knife. The officer who shot Archuleta said he believed the shooting was justified because he thought Archuleta was about to stab another state police officer.

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