RadioOnFire.com – The Baltimore City Council passed a bill on Monday that bans the use of gag orders in the settlements of all police brutality and discrimination cases and bolsters transparency throughout the city’s litigation system.
The bill, titled Transparency and Oversight in Claims and Litigation, was introduced by Councilwoman Shannon Sneed in July. Dozens of city residents testified before the council in a September hearing about their experiences with gag orders in lawsuit settlements, calling them “hush money” and “abusive.” The city of Baltimore has often required court-mandated silence from people seeking to settle their cases against city workers in order to receive a pay-out. Meanwhile, city workers are generally allowed to discuss those cases as they please. A federal appeals court ruling in July held that Baltimore’s gag orders undermine the right to free speech. The judges’ written opinion noted that City Solicitor Andre Davis has said that around 95 percent of the Baltimore’s settlement agreements include some kind of non-disclosure clauses. The bill prohibits the Baltimore City Department of Law from approving settlements that forbid claimants to disclose their terms. The bill also requires the Department of Law to publicly post claims against Baltimore City regarding police misconduct and unlawful discrimination on its website twice a year. It also requires the Department of Law to tell the City Council about significant litigation, meaning a settlement that exceeds $100,000 or a settlement that requires a city employee “take, continue or discontinue a certain action or practice.” It also bans the Board of Estimates, the city’s financial spending board, from approving settlement agreements that contain gag orders. Source WYPR