(May 16, 2003) -- Pioneering Pine Ave. LB restauranteur John Morris, the owner of "Mum's" whose two decades of downtown advocacy soured over recent City Hall development decisions, has won a $425,000 civil trial verdict against the City of Long Beach and former City Manager Henry Taboada, a jury finding that LB city officialdom had in effect punished him for expressing his critical views.
Next week, punitive damages could follow. Mr. Taboada will now be required to take the stand and testify to his personal wealth, one of the factors the jury may consider in assessing punitive damages.
Reached for comment by LBReport.com, Mr. Morris said, "After the verdict was announced, I was too emotional to speak. It's still hard to put into words."
Composing himself, he added, "I feel totally vindicated. I feel they [city officials] have done a number on me over the years, marginalizing me with vindictive actions that said basically go their way or go on the highway [leave town]."
Mr. Morris emphasized he's not leaving.
"I'm not running. I love Long Beach. There's lots of work to do now on Pine Ave. This is a great opportunity for [newly named] City Manager Jerry Miller to make some sweeping changes. I have great respect for Mr. Miller. I hope he listens to people who are not part of the usual deep pockets at City Hall."
Mr. Morris' attorney, James Rainboldt, told LBReport.com the $425,000 verdict was joint and several against the City of Long Beach and Mr. Taboada. (Another defendant was dismissed before the case went to the jury.)
Mr. Rainboldt indicated that the jury found by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Taboada had acted either with malice or with reckless disregard of Mr. Morris' rights, thus triggering a punitive damages phase of the trial that will begin on May 20.
"Our contention at trial was that a culture permeated City Hall that punished those who took positions on issues that were perceived to be against City Hall's positions," Mr. Rainboldt said.
Reached for comment, LB City Attorney Bob Shannon told LBReport.com, "We believe the jury's verdict was incorrect but the jury has spoken. We will now make appropriate post trial motions. We believe at the end of the day, the city will be vindicated."
One of the big ticket items that set Mr. Morris on a collision course with City Hall was what became of "Queensway Bay," now called the "Pike at Rainbow Harbor." Mr. Morris said:
"My quarrel wasn't over doing development [south of Ocean Blvd.] but the kind of development they were doing. As I said on my first day of testimony, I feel betrayed. Pine Ave. feels betrayed. They sold us a package. Then City Hall changed the package. They should be ashamed of themselves," he said.
In recent years, Mr. Morris began sponsoring a cable television talk show, "Mum's The Word" (Charter Cable channel 3), now hosted by former LB City Councilman Les Robbins. The show provides a prime time slot for discussing city issues...often critical of the status quo.
As for the long term results of his court victory, "If it helps make change, that's what it was all about," Mr. Morris said.
He added, "I want to go forward now. I've got a business to run. I really want to get back to work and not have to worry about this shit."