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Finding that attorney Brian Puricelli’s courtroom work was “smooth” and “artful” in securing a $430,000 verdict in a civil rights suit, but that his written work was “careless” and laden with typographical errors, a federal magistrate judge has ruled that his court-awarded fees should be paid at two rates — $300 per hour for the courtroom work, but $150 per hour for work on the pleadings. “Mr. Puricelli’s complete lack of care in his written product shows disrespect for the court. His errors, not just typographical, caused the court a considerable amount of work. Hence, a substantial reduction is in order. We believe that $150 per hour is, in fact, generous,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart wrote in his 12-page fee opinion in Devore v. City of Philadelphia. In the suit, plaintiff John Devore, a former Philadelphia police officer, claimed that he was harassed and ultimately fired in retaliation for reporting that his partner had stolen a cell phone. Hart said he recognized that the case was a complicated one, but said he found some of Puricelli’s writing in the amended complaint to be “nearly unintelligible.” When defense lawyers complained that the typographical errors in Puricelli’s work were “epidemic,” Puricelli’s response included several more typos, Hart said. The judge quoted a paragraph from Puricelli’s response, adding “[sic]” after each typo. Puricelli wrote: “As for there being typos, yes there have been typos, but these errors have not detracted from the arguments or results, and the rule in this case was a victory for Mr. Devore. Further, had the Defendants not tired [sic] to paper Plaintiff’s counsel to death, some type [sic] would not have occurred. Furthermore, there have been omissions by the Defendants, thus they should not case [sic] stones.” Hart seemed almost amused. “If these mistakes were purposeful, they would be brilliant,” Hart wrote. “However, based on the history of the case and Mr. Puricelli’s filings, we know otherwise.” In his most recent letter to the court, Hart noted, Puricelli misspelled the judge’s name, referring to him as the “Honorable Jacon [sic] Hart.” “I appreciate the elevation to what sounds like a character in The Lord of the Rings,” Hart wrote, “but alas, I am but a judge.” But Hart said he was impressed by Puricelli’s work in the courtroom. “As for the time Mr. Puricelli spent in court, considering the quality of his written work, the court was impressed with the transformation. Mr. Puricelli was well prepared, his witnesses were prepped, and his case proceeded quite artfully and smoothly,” Hart wrote. As a result, Hart decided to reduce Puricelli’s hourly rate in his fee award, but only for his written work. After trimming 32 hours from the fee petition, Hart awarded Puricelli more than $172,000 in fees for 209 hours at $150 per hour and 470 hours at $300 per hour. Puricelli, contacted after the opinions were handed down, said he “did not intend to insult the court,” but that he was also pleased that Hart “praised my in-court trial work.” Hart also awarded nearly $20,000 in fees to Puricelli’s co-counsel, attorney Andrew F. Erba of Williams Cuker & & Berezofsky for 56.8 hours at a rate of $350 per hour. Lawyers for the city argued that Erba’s high hourly rate was unjustified in light of his limited role in the case. Hart disagreed, saying, “Although Mr. Erba was not the lead counsel in this case, on the occasions when he participated in conferences with the court, he was well versed in the case and the applicable law. Mr. Erba provides the statements of two reputable attorneys who are familiar with him and prior cases of his. They attest to the fact that $350 per hour is a reasonable fee considering his experience and the rate for such expertise in the field of employment law.” In a separate 24-page opinion, Hart rejected the city’s motions to set aside the verdict and for a new trial, finding that the jury had ample evidence to conclude that Devore’s civil rights were violated. According to court papers, Devore joined the Philadelphia police force in 1993. In June 1996, he discovered that his partner, James Floczak, had stolen a cell phone from a neighborhood youngster. Devore reported the theft to his immediate supervisor, and, as a result, Floczak was ultimately arrested, fired and convicted. But while Floczak was being tried, Devore claims he was targeted by fellow officers as well as top brass in the department who wanted to punish him for violating the “blue wall of silence.” As Hart described it, Devore’s “entire case revolved around ‘the blue wall of silence,’ an allegedly unwritten policy in the police department that an officer does not ‘rat out’ another officer.” At one point, Devore said, a rat poster was hung in the roll call room of the 17th precinct. Devore had been placed under surveillance in connection with a civilian complaint that he was running a speakeasy. In that surveillance, police officials said they discovered that Devore had claimed overtime for hours that he did not work on six occasions. He was eventually arrested for theft of overtime and was fired as a result of the arrest. When Devore was tried in Municipal Court, he was convicted of theft. But in a de novo appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, Devore was acquitted. Despite the acquittal, a labor arbitrator later upheld Devore’s termination for overtime violations. At trial, Hart ruled that the jury could not be told about the substance of two investigations of Devore by the department prior to the overtime investigation that led to his firing. In the first, Devore was investigated for possible insurance fraud after he was allegedly found conspiring to strip his personal vehicle for the insurance proceeds. Lawyers for the city argued that they needed to tell the jury about the other investigations to explain why Devore was under surveillance. But Hart found that the information about the prior investigations would be unfairly prejudicial. Instead, Hart gave the jury a cautionary instruction in which he explained that the reason Devore was under surveillance was “in connection with events that are not relevant to the issues in this case and you are not permitted to draw any inference, favorable or unfavorable for either side, from the fact that this plaintiff was under surveillance. The only reason you’re allowed to know that is because you have to know the results of that surveillance.” Hart rejected the city’s post-trial argument that the ruling about the other investigations was unfair to the city’s case. Instead, Hart found that the city’s defense centered on the testimony of former Police Commissioner John Timoney who said in his deposition that Devore was fired only because he was arrested. Since the city’s defense lawyers “adopted this as their theory of the case, Hart concluded that “the prior investigations were not relevant to the city’s reasons for terminating Mr. Devore’s employment. Thus, the only relevance that the prior investigations had was to put the surveillance in perspective.” Hart also concluded that the jury had ample grounds for rejecting the city’s defense. Timoney testified that Devore was fired because he was arrested, and that “this was the Commissioner’s policy in all cases,” Hart noted. But the jury also learned that Timoney “made an exception to this policy for an officer who had been arrested at an Orioles baseball game.” Timoney testified that he had been told and concluded that the arrest of this officer in Baltimore was unjustified, and that he decided to “see how it play[ed] out in court.” Because the charges were later dropped against him, that officer was never fired. Hart said the jury also had evidence that could support a finding that Devore had not violated the overtime policy. “The jury heard testimony regarding the responsibilities of officers, like Mr. Devore, who were waiting for their cases to be called at the Criminal Justice Center. The jury heard about the crowding of the courtrooms in the CJC, and the desires of the Assistant District Attorneys and judges to avoid confrontations between the officers and defendants and their families,” Hart wrote. Testimony at trial showed that “officers are encouraged not to stay in the courtrooms,” Hart noted, and that it was customary for officers who did not have foot beats to leave the courtroom. The jury also knew that Devore was ultimately acquitted of the theft charge. “Based on this testimony, the jury could easily have concluded that Mr. Devore’s case was akin to that of the Orioles fan, i.e. an unjust charge. The jury could have also concluded that because Mr. Devore had turned in his former partner, Mr. Timoney did not accord plaintiff the same treatment given to the Orioles’ fan, treatment which resulted in no discharge upon arrest,” Hart wrote. Hart said Devore also had evidence that he was the only officer ever disciplined for abusing court overtime despite a widespread “on call” system used by the officers subpoenaed to testify. “From this, the jury could reasonably have concluded that [police officials] targeted Devore in retaliation for his involvement in the Floczak matter,” Hart wrote. Hart’s pair of opinions, handed down Friday, would never have seen the light of day but for a bizarre series of events in which the case appeared to have settled but later came back to court. After the verdict, the city agreed to pay Devore $400,000, to vest him in his pension, and to provide the contributions to the pension plan that it would have made if Devore had not been fired. The city also agreed that within 30 days of the settlement, the police department would expunge Devore’s record and refer to him as retired. Although the city quickly paid Devore the $400,000, it later admitted that it failed to comply with other provisions in the agreement, including expunging his record and vesting him in his pension. Devore claimed that he was rejected for a job with the Pennsylvania State Police when the city failed to keep its promise and informed the state police that Devore had been fired. In a conference with Hart, the city’s lawyers admitted that the city had breached the settlement agreement and suggested the possibility of reinstating Devore as a Philadelphia police officer. Although Devore said he would be satisfied with reinstatement, the city’s lawyers later told Hart that it would not reinstate Devore. As a result, Hart gave Devore the option of seeking enforcement of the settlement or an order vacating the settlement. “If we vacate the settlement agreement, the jury’s verdict will be reinstated, and the court will issue its rulings on the post-verdict motions, molding the verdict, considering the issue of attorney fees, and deciding the issue of reinstatement in lieu of the jury’s front pay award,” Hart wrote. Now Hart has ruled in a 24-page opinion on post-trial motions that Devore should not be reinstated due to the atmosphere of “bad blood” in the department “Plaintiff claimed that he was harassed for violating the wall of silence and that the harassment was widespread, including actions taken by his coworkers, supervisors, the Internal Affairs Bureau, and the Commissioner, himself. Accepting these allegations as true, Mr. Devore’s situation on the Philadelphia Police Force would be worse now that he has taken the City, his former supervisors, and former police commissioner to court,” Hart wrote. Hart found that a police officer’s job is different from an ordinary laborer’s because police officers “routinely put their lives on the line and must rely on backup from their partners and other officers.” Although Hart didn’t suspect Devore and his future partners would not provide “back up” to each other, he found that the job is one in which “trust and confidence are essential elements.” “After all the bad blood that has been exchanged between the plaintiff and the defendants, we do not believe it wise to return Mr. Devore to his former position,” Hart wrote. In his order, Hart also molded the verdict, reducing Devore’s award of $262,500 for backpay by $75,833, resulting in a total award of $354,167 — $186,667 in backpay, $105,000 in front pay, $60,000 in compensatory damages; and $2,100 in punitive damages.

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