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Balto. Co. to pay hundreds of thousands in lost lawsuit

Appeals ruling closes police officer's case on rights violations

By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

July 31, 2011

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A veteran Baltimore County police detective will receive $225,000, and his lawyer could get more in fees now that the county has lost a case in which the officer claimed that his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has upheld the $225,000 award to Detective William Blake delivered by a U.S. District Court jury after a six-day trial in Baltimore in April, 2010. On procedural grounds, the three-judge panel also declined to consider the question of the county's liability for damages.

The county decided last week not to ask for a re-hearing on the appeal, meaning the case is closed, said county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

"We're thrilled the county is finally going to pay the award that Detective Blake earned," said Kathleen Cahill, Blake's lawyer. "We look forward to the next phase" of the case, in which the District Court will determine her fee.

She declined to say specifically what the cost could be, but she said work on the case lasted five years, and "fees and expenses entailed in a fight of that duration are considerable."

Last July, Blake filed a motion with U.S. District Court saying that up to that point, a "fair estimate of the amount of attorney's fees sought, including litigation and costs, is $370,000." That figure did not include the cost of the appeal.

Blake, 42, who has been on the force for 24 years, accused the county of violating his rights when he was ordered to take neurological and fitness-for-duty tests in 2006, 10 years after he suffered what the lawsuit called a "potential seizure" on the job.

Blake argued that three weeks after being ill he had been pronounced fit for service. He claimed that the police chief at the time, Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, later ordered the electroencephalogram and other tests in reprisal against Blake. Blake had testified before the county Board of Appeals on behalf of another officer who was challenging a forced retirement for health reasons.

The federal appeals court panel on July 15 made a two-part ruling. The first part found that the appeals court could not consider the question of county liability because the county's lawyers failed to file the correct motion after the verdict was delivered. As a result, the appeals court is "powerless to review the district court's ruling."

The second section of the three-page opinion affirmed the damage award, finding that the lower court "did not abuse its discretion" in denying a county motion to reduce the amount.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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