Judge mulls officer’s reimbursement request
by Timothy Cwiek
Mar 20, 2014 | 552 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Philadelphia judge said last week she’ll review hundreds of court documents before deciding whether the city should reimburse a police officer for his legal bills stemming from an alleged sexual assault.

On March 14, Common Pleas Judge Jacqueline F. Allen said she needs at least 30 days to decide whether Officer Michael Paige should be reimbursed for $189,991.55 in attorney’s fees.

The fees were incurred by attorney Brian M. Puricelli, who defended Paige against allegations that he sexually assaulted James Harris in 2007.

Harris claims Paige forced him to perform oral sex and digitally penetrated his anus in a secluded area of Fairmount Park.

But Paige denies the allegations, and a Philadelphia judge cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing shortly after the incident.

The officer claims Harris located one of his discarded condoms in the park and used its contents to frame him.

Harris denies framing Paige with fabricated evidence, and in 2012, a federal jury awarded Harris $165,000 in damages.

Paige contends the city should have defended him during his federal trial, and that he’s entitled to reimbursement for Puricelli’s services.

During a 15-minute court proceeding last week, both sides briefly explained their positions. But they said the gist of their arguments are contained in hundreds of documents they handed to Allen.

The judge said she needs time to “digest” the materials, which include the entire transcripts of Paige’s civil and criminal trial, and urged the parties to be patient.

“It’s unrealistic to think you’ll get a ruling in less than 30 days,” Allen said.

City attorney Sean Kirby said he wants to submit more materials to Allen, and Allen gave him 10 days to do so.

Outside the courtroom, Kirby expressed strong opposition to any city tax dollars used for Paige’s legal bills.

“We believe the federal jury concluded that Officer Paige sexually assaulted Mr. Harris,” Kirby told PGN.

Kirby said sexual assault isn’t within the scope of a police officer’s employment duties. Thus, Paige isn’t entitled to reimbursement from the city for attorney’s fees.

But in court papers, Paige maintains he was providing a valid service to Harris during their 2007 encounter.

The officer says Harris was in Fairmount Park after hours, partially clothed, and that he took the young man aside to counsel him.

Harris, who wasn’t in the courtroom, is still waiting to receive his $165,000 jury award from Paige. Additionally, Harris’ attorneys say Paige owes them about $400,000 in legal fees.

Those outstanding bills weren’t the focus of last week’s court proceeding, and it remains unclear if Harris and his attorneys will seek reimbursement from the city.

Kirby said the city could appeal an unfavorable verdict by Allen to state Commonwealth Court. But he declined to predict whether the city would do so.

Paige was dismissed as a police officer after his encounter with Harris, but an arbitrator ordered him reinstated in 2008.

Kirby had no comment when asked if the city should have appealed the arbitrator’s decision.

Paige had no comment for this story.

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