By Mimi Gan
For the Northwest Asian Weekly
Medina recently lost a major racial discrimination lawsuit filed by former Police Chief Jeff Chen. Now, the city must decide whether to appeal or not. An appeal would be the wrong thing to do and a waste of taxpayers’ money. Here’s why.
Common sense says not to throw good money after bad. The jury found for Chen on every single count, and Judge Zilly — a seasoned and respected federal judge appointed by President Reagan — made no major errors. The city council needs to get realistic advice from a fresh set of appellate lawyers, set emotions aside, and listen to their advice.
Beyond the business aspect of this, as a city government, Medina needs to consider what is morally right and the message it is sending its residents. The decision needs to be based on the facts and the council members’ moral compasses, not emotions and opinions based on incomplete news coverage or hearsay.
I sat through most of the trial because I have a strong interest in human rights issues. At the outset, I was skeptical of Chen’s claim that he was wrongfully terminated and race was a factor. How could this happen today in what appears to be a racially tolerant and well-educated city like Medina? I am also Chinese American and we often look askance at those of us who may “play the race card.” But I also know what racial discrimination feels like.
As I sat through the trial, the truth became obvious. It is clear that Chen, who was seemingly loved by the community, was subjected to blatant old-school racism — from racial slurs to the lack of substantive due process in his firing. It took most of the 11-day trial to convince me that Chen had done nothing wrong and the actions city manager Donna Hanson took against Chen were extreme and racist. How extreme? So extreme that eight independent jurors unanimously agreed to award Chen in excess of $2 million.
As Chen’s attorney Marianne Jones pointed out in her closing arguments, Chen is not a perfect man, but a good man. The defense painted Chen as a thief, liar, and corrupt cop, appropriately fired for those reasons. By the end of the trial, every single claim the City tried to argue was a legitimate basis for termination was either explained or never substantiated by the defense. The jury saw through the City’s pretenses and found the truth.
Unfortunately, those unproven accusations will continue to linger in people’s minds.
Jeff Chen has been tarred and feathered in the court of public opinion. His reputation has suffered irreparable damage. It speaks to his character that he is willing to forsake the millions he was awarded to return to the job he loved and was good at.
Because of the action of a few, Medina looks like some southern backwater of the 1960s. The Medina City Council and its good citizens need to clean up city government and put this sordid bit of history behind them. If you have friends in Medina, please encourage them to take part in this civic discourse – it’s time to take action and move forward. That begins with a council resolution, not to appeal. It’s not only good business, but more importantly, it’s the moral and right thing to do. (end)