You remember Dr. Ray Spencer, don’t you? He’s the man that was a police officer with Vancouver Police Department when he was wrongfully convicted of molesting his own children back in the mid-eighties. He was exonerated after 20 years, and is a free man, with no criminal record. Clark County Washington finally put a price tag on what 20 years of a man’s life is worth, and signed the settlement agreement today.
Even though Dr. Spencer was awarded 9 million dollars at the time of his suit, the county has agreed to pay 5.25 million, with an additional $750,000 coming from the Washington Counties Risk Pool. Clark county is no longer covered by the risk pool now. So for 20 years, it looks like 6 million bucks is the price tag. It really doesn’t seem like much, especially when you consider everything he lost. He lost his children, his career, his dignity, his faith and trust, and his freedom. Some of that he has since gotten back. Some of it he never will.
Before you dance on table tops wild with delight, though, keep in mind he still has to pay his attorney, Kathleen Zellner. That kind of representation doesn’t come cheap. According to the wrongful conviction suit filed in 2012, Dr. Spencer sought his original award plus an additional 3 million dollars in fees and costs. If that number still stands, it means Ray Spencer will likely see around 1/3 of his original award amount. This would cover his lost pay for the 26 years it has taken to resolve his case, but it doesn’t cover the other, less tangible losses.
In an interview with ‘The Columbian’ Ms. Zellner explained that, even so, it was a good result. According to Kathleen Zellner’s statements to ‘The Columbian’ most people in wrongful conviction cases get nothing. While undoubtedly true, it still makes for a very bitter pill to swallow. It’s also disturbing on an entirely different level, for the simple fact that there is no real fear of repercussion in wrongful conviction cases. How many wrongfully convicted people have won their freedom, and gotten nothing more than a “Sorry” in return. How many didn’t even get that?
Ray Spencer wants his life back. He wants the things he has been deprived of for so many years. Obviously, that won’t happen. This is as good as it gets from Clark County. I suppose in that respect, a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing. At least they are going to pay out this much, and not continue to waste more taxpayer dollars appealing to the Supreme Court. If you are going to find a silver lining in a cloud, I suppose that could be it.
While they have not ruled out possible legal action against Vancouver Police Department, for the foreseeable future, what you see is what you get. So if you are considering hitting up your dear old kindergarten playmate for a loan, your long lost uncle/cousin/mystery sibling, don’t bother. This settlement means that Dr. Spencer and his wife Norma can live out the rest of their days without crushing legal debt. They might not have to worry about paying the light bill, and maybe they can afford to splurge on groceries here and there. But he’s certainly not going to be rolling in it.
I’ll be talking to Ray soon, and I’ll let you know what he has to say, and how he feels then. For now, I am going to wish Ray and Norma a very Merry Christmas. For no other reason than at least now, for the first time in over a quarter of a century, their lives are entirely their own, and not controlled by the next court date, the next form to sign, the next affidavit, then next shoe to fall. For the first time since they have been married, they can just be.
Merry Christmas Ray and Norma.