Sterling’s attorney warns comments may be slanderous By Jasmine Marshall — Staff Writer 6/15/03 The controversy over John Sterling’s ouster roared back to life Friday, when the former police chief’s attorney warned city officials that comments made about his client may be slanderous. In a letter addressed to City Manager Tim Ness, City Attorney Art Montandon and the entire City Council, Sterling’s attorney Robert Aaronson notes he and his client are troubled by “false information apparently being spread by city representatives.” In response, the city attorney said officials have done nothing but exercise their First Amendment rights. Sterling and the city reached an agreement last month for him to retire early in exchange for a $123,501 settlement — the equivalent of 10.5 months of salary and $17,171 in holiday and vacation pay. On May 1 the former chief had been placed on paid leave pending termination. Both Sterling and city officials said the primary reason for his leaving city employment were management conflicts with Ness and others in city administration. But Aaronson alleges in his letter to the city that “in the hours and days immediately following the execution of the agreement, I became aware of the statements being made to various community members, allegedly by members of the Council, by the City Attorney and the City Manager to the effect that ‘if the public knew the real reasons why Chief Sterling was forced out, the public would be supportive of the council and not the chief.’ Another version claimed that these real reasons were embodied in the Chief’s personnel files. These statements are absolute falsehoods and all of us know that or should know it by now.” Aaronson noted that neither he nor Sterling “wish to bring an action against the City or its officials. We would like the sniping and rumor mongering to cease forthwith. If it doesn’t a lawsuit would have to be the next step.” The attorney said he believes Sterling would have grounds for a lawsuit based on slander and violation of his civil rights if the comments persisted. Sterling said Friday his intent in having Aaronson write the letter was to try to settle the issues related to his departure. “I conceded, I retired and left, so why keep hounding me?” Sterling said. City Attorney Art Montandon responded Friday in a letter to Aaronson that the settlement agreement does not preclude city officials from exercising their First Amendment rights. “As you know, nothing prohibits city officials from making fair comment to anyone, including the media, about a public figure, like Mr. Sterling,” Montandon writes. He also noted that Sterling did not request a “gag provision” as part of his settlement, and that the former chief had made comments to the media about “his performance and reasons for his departure.” As to a possible slander lawsuit, Montandon wrote that he would seek to have it dismissed, noting the lawsuit would “be brought to chill the proper exercise of freedom of speech.” A lawsuit, he added, would prompt the city to conduct an investigation into the truth of any rumors. Staff writer Jasmine Marshall can be reached by e-mail at jmarshall@pulitzer.net :nav Source: http://www.lompocrecord.com/articles/2003/06/14/news/export9170.txt

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