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Former Newport Beach policemen file lawsuit

Two lieutenants allege workplace was full of favoritism, retribution. They seek damages greater than $25,000.

May 24, 2011|By Lauren Williams, lauren.williams@latimes.com

Two former Newport Beach police lieutenants allege in a lawsuit that they were unfairly passed over for promotions in a workplace they claim was rife with favoritism and retribution.

The allegations filed earlier this month in Orange County Superior Court by Craig Frizzell and Steve Shulman assert that they were overlooked while other officers were promoted through tests set up to favor certain members of the Newport Beach Police Department.

In addition to the city and the Police Department, the lawsuit names as defendants former Police Chiefs Bob McDonnell and John Klein and former City Manager Homer Bludau. The claimants are seeking unspecified damages greater than $25,000.

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"To be honest, I have never even met the two retired officers involved in this issue," Police Chief Jay Johnson said in an e-mail to the Daily Pilot. "This was two chiefs ago and was dealt with long before I got here. Unfortunately, it's old news that apparently has already been addressed and has nothing to do with the current NBPD."

City Atty. David Hunt could not be reached for comment.

City spokeswoman Tara Finnigan said there would be no comment from City Hall at this stage because the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

The lawsuit follows a separate one filed by a former NBPD sergeant, Neil Harvey, who claimed that, at his expense, others had received preferential treatment in promotions.

In 2009, Harvey won more than $1 million in his lawsuit against the department. He claimed that he was unfairly overlooked for promotion because of rumors that he was gay.

In 2010, John Hougan filed a claim against the department saying his reputation as a whistleblower led to retaliation and demotion for actions that were minor, and had his free-speech rights were violated. The city said at the time he was demoted for having inappropriate content on his work computer.

In 2008 and 2009, the Police Management Assn., which represents officers ranking from sergeant and above, argued before the city that Klein was preordained to fill the position and that he benefitted from favoritism in his advancement from lieutenant to chief in 2007.

After the claim, the city ordered an investigation into promotional processes in the department. The review, conducted by Jim Blaylock, a former commander with the Irvine Police Department, concluded that while Chief McDonnell made decisions that gave him more control, there was no apparent action taken to advance any one individual.

Claims of favoritism and retaliation in the department date back to the early 1990s, when four women who served in positions with the NBPD sued the department, claiming they had been discriminated against because of sexism.

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