Former chief drops suit, faces legal fees

Former chief drops suit, faces legal fees

Michele Ellson

Contributed photo.

A former Alameda fire chief owes the city more than a quarter million dollars in legal costs after agreeing to drop the last standing claim in a lawsuit claiming he had been wrongly fired.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled on Thursday that former chief David Kapler would be required to pay the city $260,535.39 in attorney's fees and costs, nearly two weeks after his attorney filed paperwork dropping the two-year-old lawsuit. An appeals court ruled in 2012 that the fees and costs would be due.

“Alameda taxpayers and the city have been vindicated by this substantial final judgment for over $260,000 against Kapler for his unsuccessful attempt to shake down and intimidate the city,” Mayor Marie Gilmore was quoted as saying in a city press release issued Monday.

Kapler’s attorney, Denise Eaton-May, did not return a call seeking comment on Monday.

Kapler resigned in November 2010 after firefighters released photos to the media showing him gassing up his personal vehicle – a blue BMW coupe – at a city gas pump. Kapler claimed his employment contract allowed him to do, but city leaders disputed that, citing the results of an investigation; they had planned to fire Kapler shortly before he resigned, the city’s release says.

In April 2011 Kapler filed a $2 million suit against the city, former City Manager Debra Kurita, former Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Councilwoman Lena Tam, claiming claiming Tam and the local firefighters union engaged in a conspiracy to destroy his reputation and get him fired due to poor relations at the bargaining table and that Gallant had aided in this effort by providing his termination letter. He also claimed the city stiffed him on promised post-employment benefits.

Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte denied the city’s effort to strike those claims, but city officials successfully appealed the ruling, leaving only the claim that the city owed Kapler benefits. He dropped that claim on October 11 but left open the possibility that he may sue again.

The city claimed that Kapler’s suit was a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, which is a lawsuit filed to chill public participation by burdening critics with legal costs. The trial court denied the city’s effort to strike the case on this basis, but the appeal court reversed that ruling, agreeing with the city.

“Former Alameda Fire Chief David Kapler has learned the hard way that a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) can carry a very hefty price tag,” the city’s press release says.

The city successfully used the same legal strategy against Gallant, who is also suing the city claiming she was wrongfully terminated; the city won a similar appeals court ruling in that case in June. The next trial court hearing in that case has been set for January 27, 2014.

Related: Appeals court nixes bulk of former fire chief's suit