Salt Lake City has paid an assistant city attorney $115,000 to resign his position and drop his federal lawsuit against the city.
Bruce Baird left his employment Thursday after he and the city reached a settlement Wednesday on his claims that the city violated his First Amendment rights.Baird filed suit against the city two years ago after his boss, City Attorney Roger Cutler, disciplined him for making derogatory remarks about presidential candidate Ross Perot.
Though U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene last year had dismissed most of Baird's claims, Baird planned to take his case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
"We felt Greene's ruling was contrary to precedent in the 10th Circuit," said Brett Del Porto, one of Baird's attorneys.
Baird's trouble started in November 1993 when Baird remarked on a local TV talk show that Perot "believes everyone is trying to assassinate him. He's still alive - too bad!"
At the time, Baird was a senior assistant attorney responsible for, among other things, the city's gun-control initiative.
When Cutler read about that irony in a Salt Lake newspaper, he placed Baird on probation.
Baird then sued Cutler and the city, arguing that his First Amendment guarantee to free speech had been violated.
Greene ruled, however, that Baird's comments were made while he held an important city position, involved matters of public concern and potentially affected government efficiency. Therefore, the public's interest in his remarks outweighed Baird's personal right to free speech, the judge said, noting that Baird's remarks on Perot arguably affected the city's ability to defeat a challenge to its proposed gun-control ordinance.
The judge refused, however, to grant the city's counterclaim seeking the court's blessing to terminate Baird for his remarks.
That left one issue for trial: whether the city retaliated against Baird for filing his lawsuit. A hearing was set for Friday, but both parties instead filed with Greene a stipulation to settle and dismiss the lawsuit.
The settlement is "to buy peace and avoid the cost and disruption attendant to the litigation," says the stipulation, which also absolves each party of any wrongdoing, said Stan Preston, a private attorney hired by the city to fight the lawsuit.
Del Porto said Baird, 40, will take a three- or four-week break before going into private practice.