UO charged $1.6 million for Cleavenger vs. UOPD

The University of Oregon will pay over $1.6 million for losing the James Cleavenger vs. University of Oregon Police Department free speech retaliation lawsuit. Fees include the jury-awarded sum and the attorney fees of both Cleavenger and UO.

Cleavenger won a lawsuit against the UOPD in September. The jury awarded him $755,000, and UO was ordered to pay Cleavenger’s attorney fees. Combined with fees for UO’s own attorney’s, UO will pay $1,647,899.29. The money will come from UO’s insurance policy, not the general fund.

The initial award of $755,000 included $650,000 in economic damages and $105,000 in punitive damages. The jury broke the punitive damages down by defendant: $36,000 against UOPD Chief of Police Carolyn McDermed, $51,000 against Cleavenger’s supervisor, Lieutenant Brandon Lebrecht, and $18,000 against Sergeant Scott Cameron.

“We didn’t ask the juror’s for any specific amount of money. They just came up with that on their own,” one of Cleavenger’s attorney’s, Jason Kafoury, said. Kafoury said the actions taken against Cleavenger by the UOPD ruined a potential career in law enforcement. Cleavenger’s goal was to become a police chief.

“I told the jurors, ‘Police chiefs make anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 a year. You guys do what’s fair for him in terms of how you think this has affected the rest of his life economically,’ and they awarded $650,000 in lost earning capacity,” Kafoury said.

The jury also ordered UO to pay Cleavenger’s attorney fees and costs. Cleavenger’s attorney fees add up to $452,200. The fees cover five attorneys, a trial technologist, a law clerk, and two paralegals. Cleavenger was represented by Portland law firm Kafoury and McDougal. Jason Kafoury and Mark McDougal were co-counsel on the case.

Cleavenger also had an additional $45,773.59 in costs relating to the trial. The additional costs include fees for submitting witnesses, subpoenas and even printing papers related to the case. The most costly of these fees by far, at $36,588.95, are “fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case,” according to court documents. These fees include paying court reporters to transcribe witness testimony. This was done with 18 witnesses.

In first amendment cases, once the attorney fees and costs are submitted and approved by the judge, they are automatically added to the final award.

UO also has its own attorney fees. UO was represented by Eugene firm Harrang, Long, Gary and Rudnick. The total of all their approved fees is $394,925.70, according to the Office of the General Counsel. The university’s insurance policy has so far paid $281,867 to Harrang, Long, Gary and Rudnick.

UO has an insurance policy that will pay all $1.6 million. The Public Universities Risk Management and Insurance Trust, PURMIT, covers the seven public universities in Oregon.

“The University of Oregon has comprehensive insurance for situations involving University employees, officers and volunteers as well as the buildings, vehicles and other assets,” Julie Brown, the Campus Relations Director of Enterprise Risk Management, said. “The insurance program covers everything from earthquake damage to art collections.”

In the Cleavenger vs. UOPD trial, the insurance policy will cover 100 percent of the damages, with a $0 deductible for the university.

Before the trial started, Cleavenger and his attorneys offered to settle the lawsuit for $600,000. “Defendants refused to engage in settlement discussions,” court documents note, “with the exception that at 10:46 p.m. the night before trial was to start, defendants offered to settle for $20,000 inclusive of fees. This offer was less than plaintiff’s costs.” Cleavenger turned down the offer. UO will ultimately pay $1 million more than Cleavenger’s initial offer.

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Noah Mcgraw

Noah Mcgraw