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After three years of fielding lawsuits and hearing horrifying stories, the City is seeking to put the Eric Uller sexual abuse affair in the past by settling claims from 61 additional alleged victims for $54.9 million.

In October 2018, Uller was accused of abusing young boys between 1987 and 1999 while he was employed by the City and volunteered in the Police Activities League. Uller committed suicide on the eve of his criminal trial in November 2018. Since then, the City has paid almost $100 million in settlement fees to abuse victims, including a $42.6 million payment in March. 2020 to 24 individuals.

The City Attorney believes there is reason to question the veracity of several of the allegations from the 61 claimants in the second settlement, but still advised settling with all of them.

“The City does not admit these allegations and has questions regarding the credibility of specific allegations of abuse made by certain of the plaintiffs, but to avoid the expense and burden of further litigation we recommend a collective settlement with all 61 plaintiffs,” said Interim City Attorney George Cardona in an Aug. 24 City Council meeting. 

Dave Ring, the lead counsel on both settlement cases, said he was shocked and upset by this questioning of credibility.

“He’s never given me one shred of information that he thinks someone in this group of 60 is not credible,” said Ring. “I take complete and total issue with that statement and it actually kind of angers me.”

Ring, who represented 20 of the victims in the latest settlement, believes every plaintiff in the case to be credible and declined to represent a small number of potential clients whose statements didn’t “ring true.”

The City will provide information regarding the credibility of victims claims to a retired Superior Court judge, who will be responsible for determining how the pool of $54.9 million is distributed among the plaintiffs. All money will be deducted from the City’s general fund and placed in a qualified settlement fund by Dec. 31. 

“To each of the individuals impacted by these horrific crimes, we are deeply sorry for the pain caused by one of our former employees and hope this settlement supports your journey to healing,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. 

This settlement resolves all pending complaints against the City, putting an end to an abuse scandal that affected scores of young residents, and in particular vulnerable Latino boys from the Pico neighborhood.

“The allegations of abuse ranged from single incidents of touching and fondling to multiple incidents of abuse occurring over extended periods of time, and including mutual masturbation and oral and anal copulation,” said Cardona, explaining the nature of the 61 settled claims. 

Despite frustration over Cardona’s statement regarding the second settlement, Ring said the City was very compliant with the settlement process and overall handled the case in a commendable manner. 

“I think the City of Santa Monica and its representatives have done the right thing. They recognize the harm done to these men,” said Ring. “The City could have prevented it, so I don’t want to give them too many kudos, but that was also many years ago and different administrators and different leaders at the time.”

In addition to providing financial compensation to the victims, the City hired Praesidium Inc., in 2018 to review the City’s youth programs and advise them on how to prevent any further practices of child abuse. In March, 2020, the City signed a $625,000 contract over four years to hire Praesidium to serve as a Child Protection Officer for its City-run youth programs. 

Clara@smdp.com