By Mark Puente
Baltimore officials have rejected policy changes that would provide the public and news media with more information about legal settlements, including those related to alleged police brutality.
The city Law Department proposed modifications Friday to a controversial clause in settlement agreements, one that lets the city reclaim part of the payout if plaintiffs talk about the allegations — even those contained in court documents. By breaking silence, plaintiffs could lose tens of thousands of dollars.
According to proposed revisions backed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, those who settle lawsuits would explicitly be allowed to discuss the cases with accountants, tax preparers and financial consultants — but not publicly or with the news media.
“We have concluded that the use of nondisparagement clauses is generally in the city’s best interest as part of the process of resolving litigation without going to a court trial, but we will use our discretion on a case-by-case basis as part of our review of each individual settlement,” City Solicitor George A. Nilson said in a statement.
In some cases, when the facts are widely known by the news media, the city might not use the clause in a settlement, Nilson added. He stressed that the clause is not intended to prevent people from cooperating with government investigations or court proceedings.
But critics say the clause has helped conceal police brutality — an issue that triggered protests and rioting in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death — and runs counter to promises of government transparency.
Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, past president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, said the policy does not help remedy injustices that led to the lawsuits. “These situations will continue. There needs to be a compromise here. This doesn’t bring real justice.”