Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Thursday, 25 August 2022 11:04

Drilling Down: A Deeper Dive into the Judge’s Conference that Further Damages Kim’s Credibility

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

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A number of people have told me it would be helpful if I could provide an analysis of what happened at the conference requested by Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim with U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino on August 11 regarding the Wales case. The full transcript of the meeting was contained in a previous post and can be found here.

Attending the ten-minute phone conference were:

  1. Judge Mae D’Agostino
  2. John Aspland (attorney of record representing Saratoga Springs on behalf of Travelers Insurance)
  3. Kevin Lauilliard (attorney representing Tim Wales, the plaintiff)
  4. Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim

Ron Kim is Still Not the City Attorney

A number of issues stood out for me when I read the transcript. The first was that Ron Kim still does not seem to understand that being Mayor does not empower him to also act as the city’s attorney in spite of the fact that, as he likes to frequently remind us, he has a law degree. One would have thought that he had learned this basic lesson when he was reprimanded for trying to act as the City Attorney in City Court before first Judge Vero and then Judge Wait. Apparently not.

On August 5 Mayor Kim inappropriately sent a letter to Federal District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino asking her to reinstate the Wales case and “set a time for a conference with the parties.” The proper protocol would have been for Mayor Kim to request that John Aspland (the attorney of record) contact the court requesting the conference rather than write a letter to the court himself. So it should come as no surprise that the transcript of the conference call begins with Kim again being told by a judge that he has no standing to participate in this meeting.

According to the transcript the Judge stated the following:

The only individuals who have standing to participate in this conference as far as the court is concerned are Mr. Lauilliard and Mr. Aspland. I understand that the mayor is on the phone but I’m only going to be hearing from Mr. Lauilliard and Mr. Aspland.

Judge D’Agostino

And then the Judge asks:

Mr. Aspland, what in the world is going on here?

Judge D’Agostino

Kim’s Criticisms of Travelers are Baseless- He Does a Stunning Reversal

The second thing that stood out for me in this transcript was that it makes clear that the criticisms that Kim continues to make about Travelers Insurance handling of the Wales case are baseless.

In Mayor Kim’s letter to the judge requesting the conference he cited the failure of the insurer to seek Council approval in settling the Wales case as grounds for reinstating the case and prompting the need for the meeting.

“…The city of Saratoga Springs City Council has never voted to dismiss this matter nor settle it….and certainly not the Mayor’s office….has authorized counsel of record for the City of Saratoga Springs to settle this matter and discontinue it” he complains in the letter he signed.

During the call the Judge asks John Aspland if he had the authority to agree to the settlement without getting City Council approval.

Mr. Aspland, did you have the authority to settle this case on behalf of the city of Saratoga Springs when you did enter into the settlement and signed the closing settlement.

Judge D’Agostino

Aspland responds:

Yes, Your Honor. It’s not a consent policy with Travelers. So Travelers agreed to pay the money and executed the documents that we always execute, and that was the process.

John Aspland

The Judge then re-affirms what Aspland has said:

OK. So you’re telling me that in the contract of insurance between the city of Saratoga Springs…there was no need for the city of Saratoga Springs to consent?

Judge D’Agostino

Aspland confirms this in the transcript.

Judge D’Agostino later decides to give Kim permission to speak. She addresses Kim about Travelers ability to settle the case without involving the city in the decision.

But what I’m hearing from the counsel of record (Aspland) is that the insurance company had full authority to settle the case without the consent of the city. I’m pretty sure you disagree with that. You have permission to speak. Correct, Mr. Kim?

Judge D’Agostino

In a startling reversal of what he said in his letter to the court and what he has said repeatedly at the Council table, Kim bizarrely responded to her, stating:

No, actually, your honor. We don’t disagree with that…We do not disagree, [with] the interpretation of the policy.

Mayor Kim

Then Kim tells the judge:

We wanted to make sure that the court understood how this settlement was reached, and then basically, …. we need to find out additional facts about potentially cancelling. That’s why we asked for this (the conference). We do not disagree [with]the interpretation of the policy

Mayor Kim

It’s challenging to parse something coherent out of this statement but, first, and most disturbing, if we take Mayor Kim at his word, he has asked for this hearing with the Judge so he can figure out how to cancel the Travelers Insurance policy.

The Court Addresses Another Complaint Kim Has Made about Travelers Insurance

While not contained in his letter to the Judge, Kim has also repeatedly complained about the $25,000 deductible the city owes Travelers as part of the $100,000 settlement Travelers paid out in the Tim Wales case.

The Judge repeats the fact that the city did not have to agree to the settlement then asks Aspland about this deductible:

There was no need for the City of Saratoga Springs to consent. Was there a deductible?

Judge D’Agostino

Aspland responds:

So my understanding is that there was a $25,000 deductible under the employment practice policy, that typically what would happen is Travelers would pay the full amount to settle the case for the plaintiff when they choose to do so. Then how the process works is that the insured client, here the city, gets an invoice from Travelers for the deductible, and that the deductible is then paid in the normal course of business.

John Aspland

As documented in a previous blog, this indeed is exactly how previous insurance settlements have been handled over the years. Hopefully this court transcript will now finally make this clear to Kim, and Commissioners Montagnino and Sanghvi who expressed surprise and outrage that the city owed this bill. It is unfortunate that the three of them did not take the time to do their homework and find this out ahead of time before they wasted time, energy, and the city’s resources stirring up conflict and angst over baseless charges.

Kim’s Obsession with Dillon Moran’s Alleged Conspiracy

Speaking of baseless charges, another interesting part of this transcript came when Judge D’Agostino graciously allows Kim to speak. Kim takes this opportunity to launch into a wandering statement claiming that an unnamed member of the City Council (who Kim eventually identifies as Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran) had a conflict of interest in the case and somehow ended up negotiating the settlement.

Kim tells the Judge:

What we wanted to call attention to the Court was that this settlement discussion was conducted by a representative of the city council that basically has an extreme conflict of interest when he conducted this. He presented himself as far as we know to this Court in front of Judge Magistrate Stewart as a representative of the city…

So then he [Moran] spent about two to three months based on email records that we have, again don’t have a full picture, basically negotiating on behalf — well purporting to negotiate on behalf of the City Council and the city of Saratoga Springs, while having this clear conflict of interest where he was essentially a witness.

Mayor Kim

Strikingly, Kim uses a lot of qualifiers in making his rambling accusations. He says Moran presented himself as a representative of the city “as far as we know”. He concedes that “again, don’t have a full picture” and backtracks at one point after accusing Moran of negotiating for the city to add “well purporting to negotiate…” whatever that means.

Judge to Kim: “I Can’t Solve Your Issue”

Kim concludes by asking the Judge for the following help:

So, your honor, we are looking to get additional information to basically fulfill our obligation to the public to explain to them why we are paying out $25,000.00 deductible beyond the contract [JK: beyond the contract? What does that mean?] and also find out, determine if there is any other actions that we have to take.

Mayor Kim

Not surprisingly the Judge tells Kim what he, especially as a lawyer, should have known in the first place:

There isn’t anything that I can do at this point to solve your issues, Mr. Kim. This seems to be like an internal issue between you, the Travelers, and Mr. Aspland. It’s not my role as a federal judge at this point to get you information, but more importantly, I don’t have any information…The case is settled. Moneys have been disbursed. So I can’t give you whatever relief you seem to be looking for.

Judge D’Agostino

Time To Move On

At the last City Council meeting on August 16th Mayor Kim announced that his plan now is to initiate a full investigation of the settlement of the Wales case. This is truly ill-advised. Kim’s continued obsession with pursuing Moran and Travelers Insurance only serves to undermine his own credibility. His best route out of all of this would be to move on and successfully carry out the people’s business and restore his own name by producing some real accomplishments that improve the quality of life in Saratoga Springs.

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