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Who's Accountable for Punitive Damages: Government Employees or the Elected Officials Under California Government Code Section 825(b)?

NCJ Number
San Diego Justice Journal Volume: 3 Issue: 2 Dated: (Summer 1995) Pages: 517-533
J C Walker
Date Published
17 pages
A recent case, Trevino v. Gates, filed against individual members of the Los Angeles City Council and the Chief of Police alleged that these elected government officials were responsible in their individual capacities for having allowed city employees to continually violate the civil rights of citizens; the Los Angeles City Council ordered punitive damage awards against individual police officers acting within the scope of their official duties.
The plaintiff argued, however, that the council's action did not prevent or eliminate police brutality but rather encouraged it by not requiring that individual police officers be held accountable for their actions. The Trevino v. Gates case is reviewed in relation to various judicial interpretations of California's Enabling Act, California Government Code Section 825(b). This act gives municipal governments discretion in deciding whether to pay punitive judgment awards on behalf of government employees who, acting within the scope of their employment, are individually charged with punitive damage awards. Public policy concerns are raised regarding the indemnification of public employees for wrongful acts and who should be held accountable to society for these acts. The author concludes that the establishment of immunity laws for government officials acting within their official capacity and the implementation of punitive damage awards are largely based on and balanced by public policy considerations. 97 footnotes