A federal judge has dismissed a six-year-old lawsuit against the City of Long Beach that cost city officials nearly $220,000 in attorney fees and litigation.
U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Ann Donnelly ruled Dec. 2 that former Long Beach firefighter Jay Gusler could not proceed with his lawsuit against the city alleging Long Beach officials violated his protected speech when he criticized fire operations.
Long Beach city officials said invoices for the lawsuit have totaled $219,428 in attorney fees since the lawsuit was filed in May 2010. The total does not include fees for court reporters and transcripts.
Gusler, a paid firefighter, had sued the city claiming he was retaliated against amid a rift between the city’s paid and volunteer firefighters. He had filed several claims against the city and officials, including former City Manager Charles Theofan and Long Beach Fire Commissioner Scott Kemins.
Gusler’s attorneys declined to comment on the case, but said they are considering whether to appeal.
“This was a series of grievances with the City of Long Beach over a long period of time. Anyone who knows Mr. Gusler knows he’s fond of litigation and he likes to speak his mind,” the city’s Garden City-based attorney Paul Millus said Tuesday. “The judge determined these were the concerns of essentially a private individual complaining about something, but it’s not a matter of public concern.”
The judge held an evidence hearing on Dec. 2 to review a letter from Gusler to Theofan and two postings he sent on internet message boards criticizing the volunteer fire department, alleging volunteer chiefs had criminal records and received unjust promotions, and that fire officials divided the department.
Gusler said he was denied a promotion and retaliated against for sending a letter to Theofan and the former fire commissioner in 2008 urging the city to increase paid firefighter staffing because he felt volunteer firefighter response was inadequate. Gusler was suspended and his position eliminated last year after he was convicted of misdemeanor identity theft and forgery while working for the city as an unlicensed contractor.
In her ruling, Donnelly described Gusler’s “personal vendetta against the volunteer fire department” and said his comments were not protected speech.
During the hearing, Donnelly cited “the constant barrage of criticism by the plaintiff that the volunteers have now stopped helping the paid firefighters pack up their engine after arriving at a scene.”
“It’s an example of a concrete negative effect of the plaintiff’s speech,” she said.