$500,000 + in Golden Gate Waste

Deputy General Manager Kary Witt Assaults Demonstrator, Gets District to Pay All His Legal Fees; District Refuses Reasonable Settlement and Ends Up Spending $544,517.27 in Legal Fees plus $95,000 in Settlement Expense.

Background:
For more than two years, Golden Gate Waste has been publicizing Bridge District mismanagement, such as its painters’ allowing release of lead contaminants and usually working far less than 5 hours out of their 8-hour work days.

Incident:
On May 25th, 2012, the day of the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Visitor’s Center during the weekend of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Waste distributed handbills in a peaceful non obstructive manner that fully complied with the District’s Master Ordinance.  Three demonstrators stood in a fixed position, asked passersby if they wanted information, and passed out flyers (to those who wanted the information) alerting the public to the lead contamination while promoting the Golden Gate Waste website.  Deputy Manager Kary Witt physically hit one demonstrator for video-taping Mr. Witt.  Witt then challenged him to a physical confrontation.  The video Bridge Manager Shoves Camera is posted on this website.

Repercussions:
The demonstrator sued Witt. The District paid for Witt’s entire defense --$544,517.27-- even though the District was not named as a defendant. Witt and the District refused a five-figure settlement offer and then proceeded to run up several hundred thousand more dollars in legal fees (primarily by bringing motions seeking to avoid any trial).   In January 2014, a settlement was reached out of court for $95,000, again paid by the District. This was after the board was asked directly by Golden Gate Waste how they were able to justify spending the District’s funds for Witt’s defense, knowing his actions were not part of his work responsibilities.  At the time of the attack, Witt was near several law-enforcement officers, so he had no legitimate reason to confront any demonstrator.  The final litigation expense to the Bridge District (that is, the citizens who pay taxes, bridge tolls and pay to ride the ferries and buses) was $544,517.27 plus the $95,000 settlement cost.

Golden Gate Waste

Witt attacked the demonstrator without first having been touched, yelled at, or cursed.  The Golden Gate Bridge District Board of Directors voted to pay Witt’s legal fees even though it had strong legal and ethical grounds to refuse to pay for his defense.

In the end, rash action by Mr. Witt and expensive litigation tactics cost the users of District services more than half a million dollars.  At the same time, the District is raising bridge tolls.